Tag Archives: Jail expansion

Jail Vocational Training Program Benefits All

Roane County News 04-12-19

By Danielle Brown, Roane County Executive’s Administrative Assistant of Communications

We have all made those decisions, a few steps too far in the wrong direction. For some, those decisions resulted in debt, a lost job, a lower grade, or ended a relationship. Others gave up their freedom. Regardless, yesterday has been spent, and today we reap our investment. We can choose to learn and evolve or do more of the same. Hindsight can redirect many paths, but what of the men and women whose mistakes cost their freedom?

A few years ago, the opiate epidemic flooded our jails with people who made a few wrong choices. Agencies worked overtime, and over budget towards solutions, we have yet to find. We lost sons and daughters, and the jails began accumulating a population of citizens freshly branded with a scarlet “F” for felony. Their full potential, forever limited by a checkbox found on nearly every job application. Long after their official sentence has ended, there will be a gap in their resume and a felony that must be explained. Even for those with the best intentions, choosing daily redemption will be that much more difficult. A statewide study of recidivism from 2010, by the Vera Institute of Justice, found that 46 percent of prisoners released in Tennessee were reincarcerated within three years. A costly cycle for the imprisoned and the society that pays for the prison.

Sheriff Jack Stockton, never one to accept the unacceptable, directed Deputy Robert Sparkes to combine his 20 years of contracting experience with his seven years of law enforcement to train a few prisoners in what is now called the Vocational Training Program or VTP. Sparkes took a few well-behaved prisoners to the Sheriff’s Training Facility and got to work. The prisoners, tired of serving their sentence in windowless rooms, were eager for a chance to do something more active, not to mention eating home-cooked meals. The improvements have continued to this day. Now, counties and the FBI travel from all around to use the facility.

Since then, Sparkes has mentored a revolving team of prisoners by building community docks, painting walls, refurbishing county landmarks, all the while instilling skills that can’t be taught in a traditional classroom. Mrs. Whitney Moore, Midway High School science teacher, witnessed this firsthand when the Vocational Training Program inmates installed the new greenhouse for Midway High School. “It was just as much of an outdoor classroom for many of the inmates,” Moore said. She saw that Sparkes does more than “work with them to teach them how to do different things with concrete, electrical and construction work. ”He also empowers them to work as a team. “There were guys on site that had some previous knowledge, and it was neat to see those guys work alongside Sparks to teach the other inmates,” she said.

So much of recidivism can be attributed to the social stigma of being convicted, the lack of basic needs due to unemployment and zero to few community ties. Not only do participants of the program gain valuable trade skills, but they also develop relationships with community leaders such as Joe Eskridge, president of the Roane County NAACP, and Stacey Vance Whittenberg, director of the Roane County Animal Shelter.

When the NAACP meeting hall flooded, they knew who to call. “Had it not been for the inmates, the Roane County NAACP Meeting Hall would not look as good or be as useful. They were a godsend,” he said. Eskridge knows the men by name, and they all greet him with warmth. He is still in touch with some of the program’s alumni and continues to work with one former prisoner to help with maintenance.

The prisoners unanimously agreed that the animal shelter was their favorite place to work because they get time with the animals. Paying it forward, the NAACP donated their old sound system to the animal shelter. Now, thanks to the Vocational Training Program and in part to the NAACP, the animal shelter’s roof has been repaired and extended, the walls are freshly painted, the dogs are walked, and the staff bobs their head to music while they work. “I don’t know the words to explain what a blessing they have been to the animal shelter. They wanted to be a part of something bigger than themselves, to help make things better. It changes the lives of the animals and the prisoners,” Whittenberg said.

One alumni of the program graduated with a new best friend by his side. As a part of his rehabilitation, he picked a dog from the shelter and named him Jip. Every time the men worked, Jip was there raising everyone’s spirits. The inmate even received special permission to take Jip out on weekends. This man’s family are ecstatic to have him home and have welcomed Jip to the family. Thanks to Jip and the rest of his family, this man has a reason to be responsible, a reason to stay out jail. Miss Maggie May, a new pup, has joined the team and will be loved and adored by every trainee by day, and at Maggie’s forever home with Deputy Sparkes by night.

Sheriff Stockton’s choice to begin this program began a series of reactions that have echoed through the jailhouse halls, into our local schools, non-profits, government organizations, churches, and out to local businesses inspired to invest in our county. The community’s involvement has allowed the program to run for three years with no budget. A few men chose to pay their debt to society working, rather than sitting and waiting for their sentence to end. In return, they gain skills, make connections in the community, find and inspire hope. Hope that can be seen in the army of volunteers that cooks for the program trainees and in the Kingston United Methodist Clothes Closet, who keeps the men warm with donated shoes, jackets and more. Not to mention, Scandlyn Lumber, Rogers Group, Twin K Concrete, and Rockwood’s Roger Daniels Trucking are just a few companies that have donated goods and services.

These particular actions have not only saved our community countless thousands in manpower hours, and in repurposed and donated goods, but it also invests in our county’s most valuable resource, its residents. Instead of taking men into a system and spitting them out worse off, we are sending out a higher functioning citizen; A new man with new skills, connections, confidence, and a better chance in life.

A local courtesy dock made possible in part by the Roane County Jail VTP.

Midway High School Greenhouse

Miss Maggie May

What’s up for the New Calendar Year? – Jan 2019

What’s Up for the 2019 new calendar year (Jan-Dec)? We are halfway through our 2019 budget year (07/01/2018- 06/30/19). The six-month offset between our calendar year and our budget year allows us to evaluate the county and understand what is needed to keep Roane County on the right trajectory. For the next several months our Accounting Department with the County Executive’s Office will be working with our departments putting together our capital plans and capital budgets. We are now working out our 20-year capital plans.

The Capital Plan proceeds accordingly: During the first of the calendar year, we began focusing on our capital plans: 1) To understand what assets need to be purchased, maintained or replaced according to local, state, and federal legislation and objectives. 2) Next, we incorporate the capital need with our county operational budgets which are implemented on the first of July. 3) Finally, the Capital and Operations Budgets are adopted.

Here are a few of the capital issues under consideration. You can learn more about them in previous newsletters or read about them in upcoming issues here:

  • Schools (replacement or consolidation of physical assets)
  • Jail Expansion (property is purchased and preliminary designs are being reviewed)
  • Poplar Creek Rd (funding is approved and plans are being designed)
  • Recreation Programs (currently working with a 17-year-old master plan)
  • Caney Creek Bridge Replacement (TDOT project with local impact)

Additional Plans in Development:

  • Riley Creek Campground future plans and operations
  • Courthouse/Jail Parking
  • Ambulance Service Expansion into service area of Rockwood
  • Enhancement of County Fire Services (study underway)
  • Industrial Certified Site Development (reviewing inventory)

Through the planning process, we have identified a few matters which will impact our path forward:

  • Kingston TVA Ash Spill
  • Involvement with the DOEs plans of reindustrialization, future federal missions, community, business, industrial impact on Watts Bar Reservoir
  • Roane Academy, now known as the Youth Opportunity Center for Success and Independence or Youth Opportunity found in the Roane County Industrial Park
  • Asian carp and aquatic weeds
  • Accounting issue with Other Post-Employment Benefit (OPEB) – See “Impacts of Accounting Regulation” 
  • US Census (Roane County must start initial work in February 2019)
  • More to come…

So buckle-up, Roane County ’s, $100,000,000 budget works begin now.

A Path Forward Make Roane County Better – July 2018

We are finishing the 2019 Budget with hopefully an adoption by Commission on July 9th. A new Commission will be elected on August 2, 2018, which will consist of at least five (5) new commissioners. We welcome two (2) new commissioners who are running unopposed: Shannon Hester will be replacing Carolyn Granger, and Ben Gann will be replacing Todd Fink. Not seeking re-election are Peggy Collier, Renee Kelley, and Chris Johnson. With a number of new commissioners, a new fiscal year and a number of initiatives the staff has been working on are some of the items we are going to be addressing. We hope to have an orientation and planning session in mid-September for the newly seated Commission.

Briefly here is a list of items we are working on:

  • Jail Phase II
  • School Improvement Plan
  • Old Caney Creek Campground
  • Riley Creek Campground
  • Ambulance Stations

Operational Issues/Concerns/Consideration of Policy:

  • Property and Liability Insurance-Market or Pools
  • Health Insurance State Plan or Market Plan
  • Workers Compensation – Self Insurance Performance
  • Opioid Crisis
  • Back Tax Property Management
  • Ambulance Department
  • Consolidation on Partnering of Municipal Services
  • Potential Impacts of School Consolidation
  • Management of Swan Pond Sports Complex
  • Asset Management (Back Tax Properties)
  • Solid Waste Collections and Disposals

We are pleased to have put into place a financial infrastructure that helps us have a long term planning process. The planning of making County government begins with a “Vision,” and twice a year internally we aspire to create or refine our previous visions. We encourage you to help us in the process. Give us a call or send us an email of what you think can make our communities better.

Budgets, School Building Program, Elections – Another Busy Summer – June 2018

{Ron Woody, Roane County Executive}

2019 Budget: The Budget Committee has just about wrapped up the 2019 Budget. Final work should be concluded with the Budge Committee and Public Hearing scheduled for Tuesday, June 19, 2018, at 6:30 pm. The committee has reviewed and has recommended all county budgets.
The Highway Fund has a 5% raise scheduled for all their employees with all other funds having a 2% raise. The Highway Fund has a new state gasoline tax revenue. The other funds are suffering from the lack of revenue growth prohibiting a greater raise.
The General Fund which includes the Sheriff Department and Jail operations continue to create budget challenges due to jail overcrowding, which increases inmate medical care, housing cost, and staffing over time.

The School Building Program continues to receive the most attention, and it appears that additional research and study is needed to ensure that the potential largest County investment ever, which will not only be a large dollar investment but also be an investment that will be used for at least five decades. Much research and analysis should be made for the County’s future.
We have published a number of articles on the county website that we hope are thought provoking. Please take time to review these articles on our websites publication page and under the heading Education Capital Projects. Also, on the county homepage under special announcements, you can find two school presentations.

Election Time: Roane County will most definitely see a few new elected leaders as our Trustee and County Court Clerk has chosen to retire (a future newsletter shall address their faithful service). Two officials are unopposed, Sheriff Jack Stockton and Circuit/Sessions Clerk Ann Goldston. A number of Commissioners are also choosing not to run. It will be a busy “hot summer.” Please get out and Vote!

Financial Planning is Paying Off – April 2018

Life’s successes are often due to many factors. Some would say luck is important for success. Others say success is due to hard work, timing, experience and/or education. All these factors and more can contribute to success, but one attribute we can not and must not overlook is planning. Planning is projecting out into the future, looking at “what if” and “what could be” and formulating a path to achieve a particular goal.

A little over seven years ago, we formulated a financial plan for Roane County. I have written and talked about it many times as we implemented financial policies of debt management, capital, and fund balances. Thank you County Commission for seeing and supporting the vision. Here is the success and how it is paying off. First, we have not borrowed for General Capital purposes in the last seven (7) years. Up until FY11, we borrowed basically every year. In FY12 we established Capital Funds to take care of the small cost capital items with the goal of using our borrowing capacity for big-ticket items. One of those big-ticket items is Jail Expansion. As early as 2010, our administration recognized the need for the jail expansion and started planning for this capital investment. I am pleased and proud to say that Roane County Government appears to be able to build Phase II of a Jail expansion program at an estimated cost of $5-6 million without a tax increase.

Yes, we saw the vision. We executed a financial plan. We managed capital and debt. We developed 30-year debt budgets. We refinanced debt when appropriate. We paid the debt off early when possible. We did not do further borrowing. Finally, we positioned ourselves for the right timing to have the least financial impact on our citizens. Yes, we will have to borrow to build Phase II, but our General Debt Fund has sufficient revenue and fund balance to satisfy our new proposed debt requirements without a tax increase. Our tentative schedule for Phase II of Jail Expansion is hiring Architects in March 2018. We plan to borrow in the Spring of 2019 and begin construction after financing is finalized. More to come on the plan as we work with the Architects. The Budget Committee met March 20, 2018 and after reviewing the multi-year debt budgets, recommended the General, Rural Education, and Education Debt Service budgets for 2019. Planning Our Future Is Important.