Here is my statement for the Tennessee Corrections Institute Board of Control meeting on June 1, 2016. Due to the five minute time limit, I wasn’t able to complement my remarks.
Thank you. My name is Tona Monroe. I am a county commissioner representing the 7th district in Blount County and am a member of the Blount County Corrections Partnership.
I come to you today frustrated, as I am sure that you are at times as well. My frustration runs deep, as it does with the people that I represent. Let me share some of the reasons for our frustration.
There was a secret plan to set aside $2 million to expand the jail. The public and I did not know about this until I called the TCI and began asking questions related to jail inspections and certification and obtained and read the Board of control meeting minutes from September 2 of last year.
I did suspect that money was being set aside to build because the revenue projection for housing federal inmates was cut in the current budget. When I asked if it was expected that the number of federal inmates being housed in the Blount County Adult Detention Facility would be reduced, I was told no. The forthright thing would have been to tell the commission and the public that amount of money being appropriated was being reduced so that the additional monies could accumulate for the purpose of addressing needs without our criminal justice system.
The taxpayers funded a study conducted by the Institute for Law and Policy Planning to examine the reasons for overcrowding. The study was a holistic look at the criminal justice system. Rather than embracing what the system can do to improve, several took offense to the assessment. As a result, the conclusions, findings and recommendations have largely been ignored or criticized without a fair hearing on the matter. There has been no hearing from the author on the final report. I tried to get the commission to set a date for a hearing but the Mayor threatened to sue the consultant to silence discussion. There was no lawsuit.
The people of Blount County don’t understand why a few people have worked so hard to avoid direct discussion on the report that over $94,000 of their tax money was spent on. Then to further stall the matter and avoid direction communication with the consultant, Jim Hart of CTAS was asked to review the ILPP study.
The people are frustrated because they don’t want to live in a prison county. One of my constituents asked me why are we in the prison business, referring to housing federal inmates. The people understand that the ILPP report that some have worked so hard to silence discussion on says that the county does not make money housing federal inmates. They don’t understand why the sheriff continues to house federal inmates when our jail is over crowded.
A citizen recently expressed her frustration to me by asking how the state could threaten to decertify our jail if we don’t look at building, when the state has so many sentenced inmates in our jail that it refuses to house in its prisons. We’ve been told that we have to keep the state sentenced inmates. However, my reading of the state law says otherwise.
TCA 41-8-106 (a) says “No county shall be required to house convicted felons sentenced to more than one (1) year of continuous confinement unless the county, through the authority of its county legislative body, has chosen to contract with the department of correction for the purpose of housing certain felons.”
I asked our Finance Director whether the county has a contract to state sentenced inmates and he said no. Thus, I am wondering why we’re being told that we have to house these state prisoners when the law says otherwise. Furthermore, the county legislative body has not approved the contract to house federal inmate either. If the county commission hasn’t approved housing these state sentenced felons or federal inmates, why are they there crowding our jail?
According to the data provided by our Jail Administrator, the average daily count of sentenced felons with at least 1 year left to serve during the last year is 174. If you couple that with the federal inmates in the jail, and removed them, our jail population decreases to below the 350 beds that we have. For example, in March the local paper reported that there were 517 inmates in the jail. 76 were federal and 142 were sentenced inmates awaiting beds in a state facility. If the federal inmates and state sentenced felons were removed the population in the jail on that give would have been 299 inmates, which is below the 350 bed capacity and below the 90% capacity of 315 inmates. People are asking me why we are keeping these state sentenced felons and federal inmates when eliminating them means we wouldn’t be overcrowded. Our citizens can do they math. They know that these discretionary inmates are what are causing the overcrowding.
Another frustrating matter is the false statements in the note section of the recent TCI inspection report. The report says, “The results were submitted at the April 29, 2014 CCP meeting and reviewed the findings during monthly meetings.”
The statement would partially read true if the first part read, “The preliminary results”. The final report was not released until May 31, 2014. As for reviewing the findings during monthly meetings, the BCCP does not have monthly meetings. That has been one of the great frustrations, that I haven’t been able to get the BCCP to meet monthly to discuss the report. The BCCP only met 4 times in 2015. One of the meetings that was canceled by the chairman was to hear from the author of the ILPP report to discuss the findings. That meeting was never rescheduled. Instead Jim Hart did a report on the ILPP report, which brings me to the next statement in the note section of the jail inspection report.
“The County commission has also acquired JIM Hart of CTAS conduct a Feasibility Study for the facility that was discussed during the January 19, 2016 CCP meeting.”
We have a couple of other county commissioners here today (Commissioners Karen Miller and Jamie Daly also attended the Board of Control meeting). Ask them if they acquired Jim Hart of CTAS to conduct a feasibility study. This was not a commission decision. I wonder how many commissioners even knew about the Hart study, until it was used as an excuse to delay talking about the ILPP study.
“The CCP Committee has continued to send in monthly process reports.”
What progress reports? If you are receiving monthly reports, they aren’t coming from the BCCP because it doesn’t meet monthly. I have obtained copies of what the Sheriff’s Office is submitting to you. However, the BCCP didn’t get this information, or even a copy of the Plan of Action, until I started requesting it. The Chairman of the BCCP even told the commission secretary to not provide us with a copy of the January 2016 jail inspection report at our January meeting. I didn’t even know that the jail had already been inspected this year and failed its inspection until Bob Bass told us at the January meeting. The BCCP wasn’t given a copy of that inspection report until the March meeting.
The last sentence of the note makes a recommendation. It says, “I strongly recommend that the CCP Committee look at all types of alternative sentencing and pre-trial release as well as reducing the number of discretionary/contracted inmates.”
Please know that the Vice Chairman, who served as acting Chairman of two BCCP meetings during the Chairman’s absence, prohibited me from placing the recommendation to stop housing federal inmates on the BCCP agenda. Here the jail inspector is recommending that we look at the matter and the Vice Chairman won’t even let me put it on the agenda.
Furthermore, the commission secretary who writes the meeting minutes for the BCCP has failed to record two motions that I made at BCCP meetings. One time she didn’t even mention that I made a motion and the second time she mentioned that I made a motion but failed to record what the motion stated. The other members of the BCCP did not seem concerned that motions were left out the meeting minutes.
One member of the BCCP said at the most recent BCCP meeting that the county needed to issue an RFQ to look at jail expansion to buy some time. Buy time for what exactly? Instead of buying some time, the people of Blount County deserve answers, not obstructionism. The people deserve action, not stalling or buying time. The people deserve to know what their local government is planning in open meetings, not by reading TCI meeting minutes.
At the called commission meeting in April to address issuing an RFQ related to the jail, those referencing the ILPP report were cut off when the report was germane to the matter. Citizens were also concerned that some commissioners were told that if they didn’t vote to authorize the RFQ they would be sued.
With all these questionable matters, it is no wonder that that the people are frustrated. I understand and share their frustration.
If you certify the jail today, please do so with the following conditions:
There will be no more stifling of discussion.
No BCCP member will be prohibited from adding items to the agenda.
The BCCP will meet regularly and frequently.
The BCCP will be given all important information in a timely manner.
The BCCP minutes will accurately state all motions made at the meetings.
There will be no more secret plans with taxpayer money.
The commission and public will be told what law authorizes the sheriff to sign a contract with the US Marshals Service to house federal inmates in the local jail.
The commission will be given an explanation from the state as to why state sentenced felons with sentences over one year are still in jail when the state law says that county doesn’t have to keep them.
And last but not least, the citizens will not be shut down during public input for referencing studies that support their positions.
Note: Former BCCP Chairman Tab Burkhalter spoke to the BCCP, after he left office, about the history of the BCCP and the ILPP study. He shared that the author of the report was willing to have a teleconference with the BCCP on the final report and the findings and conclusions of the study. That teleconference never happened. The discussion that took place between the author of the report and the BCCP at the April 2014 meeting was on the draft report.
March 3, 2016 TCI re-inspection report for Blount County Adult Detention Facility This was given to me with a cover letter dated February 12, 2016, even though the re-inspection was March 3rd.