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Jail to work program now a waiting game

The Claiborne Commission unanimously approved a wait and see approach to establishing a jail to work program inside the county. A couple of months ago, the commissioners decided to pull a resolution that, if adopted, would have secured a site for the proposed Helen Ross McNabb Center program much like the one currently doing well in nearby Hamblin County.

Resolution 2020-069, as originally drafted, called for the purchase of the old Refuge site, located beside the Claiborne Justice Center. The .32 acre grounds would have been purchased from Pump Springs Baptist Church for $175,000.

Attached to the original resolution was a letter of support from the McNabb Center describing the program as a way to provide inmates with a safe, drug-free transitional living environment as an alternative to serving time in jail.

The program provides treatment for substance abuse and mental health issues while teaching life skills and career training, according to the letter.

If the original resolution had been adopted in August, the purchase would have taken most of the remaining funds from the Direct Appropriations Grant for Governmental Entities.

Instead, the commissioners decided during the October meeting to wait until an ARC (Appalachian Regional Commission) grant in the amount of $500.000 is approved. A letter of intent to apply for the INSPIRE (Investments Supporting Partnerships in Recovery Ecosystems) Initiative grant has been submitted. The application is due by Nov. 13.

In the meantime, the commissioners have agreed to earmark the potential funds for the property, setting aside the county’s portion of the 70/30 matching grant in the event it is approved.

If and when the grant is awarded, the matter will be brought back before the Commission for final approval.

There were a few concerns brought to the floor. Some of the commissioners questioned issues with county liability and the lack of 24/7 supervision.

County attorney James Estep III explained the legalities.

“You have liability because they’re a county inmate. They’re in that program. They’re on county property. If they run out into the community, you begin to lose that liability because you can’t foresee what they’re going to do while they’re running. So, they would be an escapee. You wouldn’t have much exposure to an escapee. You’d have some liability if you were negligent in your supervision,” said Estep.

Program participants are required to sign an Assumption of Risk waiving the county from liability connected with inmate health, wellness and accidents. Each participant would be obligated to pay for any expenses generated from these issues.

Once the property is purchased, the county will be responsible for utilities, maintenance and repairs in the same way as for all other county-owned buildings.

Food assistance programs will be used to provide meals to the participants.

County mayor Joe Brooks said during his presentation that the program accepts women incarcerated for substance abuse issues with less than 12 months to go on their sentences.

Participation in the 12 week program is in lieu of incarceration, he said.

Just prior to the vote, commissioner Steve Brogan asked Sheriff Bob Brooks what he thought of the program.

Brooks said he had previously told someone that “I’m not getting drug in this.”

He did add that he felt it would be a good way to cut down on the jail population.

In other action, the commissioners approved the transfer of $2,802.32 to a budget line item to pay expenses incurred by the Home Rule Charter Commission during the drafting phase of the document. The final vote came down to 15 for and 6 against the action. Commissioners Carolyn Brooks, Steve Mason, Steve Brogan, David Mundy, Steve Murphy and James Hatmaker voted against the measure.

A last-minute resolution was added to the agenda during the meeting. The commissioners voted unanimously to accept $20,000 in Office of Criminal Justice COVID-19 Response grant money. The funds, awarded to the Claiborne County Jail, will be used to purchase PPE (Personal Protective Equipment).

The Claiborne Chamber of Commerce will be spearheading the annual Christmas in the County with a twist. Due to COVID-19, it will be impossible to celebrate the event inside the Courthouse.

Chamber representative Karyn Clark presented to the commissioners the revamped plans. Clark said the event, scheduled for Nov. 14, will be held outdoors via a Lighted Tractor Parade & Festival, beginning at 5:15 p.m.

From 3 p.m. to 5 p.m., there will be a motorcycle show in memory of Barry Davis.

The event will honor the county’s oldest living farmers as well.

Proceeds will go towards the establishment of a Boys & Girls Club and the continued restoration of the historic Graham-Kivett Home.