This is a great program for inmates and the county. The offenders get a free pass out of prison to work a daily shift somewhere in the county. And taxpayers benefit from the free labor — to the tune of a half-million dollars last year — plus saving the cost of incarcerating the program participants.
But some of those who abuse drugs have also been abusing the program. Some of the program participants were working at the county’s solid waste Kingsport transfer station on Brookside Lane when deputies conducted a drug bust and tested 12 participants. Seven of them tested positive for drug use. Two county employees were arrested in connection with the bust.
The bust resulted from a joint investigation by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, Kingsport Police Department and Judicial District Drug Task Force into information that several individuals were using and selling prescription pills, marijuana and methamphetamine while at that location performing community service.
Staubus is not pleased, to say the least. He said participants get on the bus at a central point and are transported to a work site, but once there “they’re using drugs among themselves and distributing and transporting and possessing those drugs. They are committing a crime right on a county site. They’re getting the opportunity because they promised you they would follow the rules that instead of spending 24 hours a day in jail, they’ll work for eight hours a day.”
Staubus said there needs to be some sort of screening mechanism before participants get on the bus. “And if they have drugs on them, they don’t need to get on the bus, and we need to think about what we’re going to do with those people.”
The county’s community service program is operated and supervised by county employees, not law enforcement, and participants have in the past been sent to or told to report to 14 different work sites across the county. Not all participants come to the program’s central office in Blountville to board a bus; some are told to report directly to their assigned work site.
Staubus has asked for a new protocol in dealing with participants, including searches and random drug tests. Those found in possession of drugs, or who fail tests, should be dealt with harshly, including remaining in a cell for the length of their sentence in addition to being prosecuted on any new charges.
Illegal drug use is a huge problem in this region, and locking abusers up isn’t the only solution. But when you give offenders a chance and they throw it away, that’s all society is left with.