Opting out of state's offender monitoring program likely to cost Hawkins County taxpayers

Jeff Bobo • Aug 28, 2019 at 9:47 AM

ROGERSVILLE — A resolution that would include Hawkins County Sessions Court in the 50/50 state-funded electronic monitoring program for indigent offenders was pulled from the county commission agenda Monday evening at the request of Sessions Judge Todd Ross.

Earlier this month, the commission’s Budget Committee agreed to include the $18,000 needed to participate in the program in the proposed 2019-20 budget, which was approved Monday.

In Hawkins County, that program was keeping approximately 15 indigent offenders out of jail per month with either GPS monitoring or drug use detecting patches, as ordered by Ross.

For treating drug and alcohol abuse

Ross had asked the committee not to draw that $18,000 from a fund he was saving to create a halfway house for recovering addicts in Hawkins County.

That fund is fed by a $100 fee attached to every DUI conviction and, according to state statute, must be used for the sole purpose of treating drug and alcohol abuse.

On Aug. 1, however, the Budget Committee voted to utilize that fund for the state GPS/drug patch program anyway. 

Ross told the Times News Tuesday he didn’t believe funding the GPS/drug patch program was an appropriate or lawful use of those funds.

“The county will be responsible for medical bills”

Because of Hawkins County’s failure to be included in the state-funded program, indigent offenders who might otherwise be released on GPS/drug patch conditions at a cost of $100 per month to the county will now likely remain in jail at a cost of about $1,000 per month to the sheriff’s office.

In other words, the cost for Hawkins County taxpayers could potentially increase from $18,000 annually to $180,000 annually.

“As far as the state program goes, unfortunately, we will not be able to participate,” Ross told the Times News Tuesday. “This means that any alternative to incarceration, such as house arrest, drug patches, GPS monitoring, etc., will be greatly limited. Also, there will be instances where an inmate needs medical care and I will not release them without a monitor. In those cases, the county will be responsible for medical bills.”

“I went to try to save money”

Ross informed the Budget Committee in July he had recently been informed that the state program, which previously paid the entire $200 per month cost of the GPS/drug patch program per indigent offender, was being cut to $100 per month, with the remainder of the cost being left to the county.

Ross specifically asked the commission not to fund the program from his DUI treatment fund, which at the time had a balance of $289,520.

Ross added Tuesday, “The DUI treatment fund is designed for a specific purpose, and I do not feel it would be appropriate or lawful to use it for these reasons. With the county in the financial shape that it is in, you would think that the commissioners would be coming to all the elected officials to ask what can be done to help lower expenses, such as the cost of incarceration. Unfortunately, that has never happened, and I only had one commissioner contact me to ask about this program. I didn’t go to the county asking for money. I went to try to save money.”

“Sheriff Lawson will just be in here asking you for more money”

In July Ross told the Budget Committee, “If those 15 people who are out on these patches (or GPS) costing $1,500 per month are sitting in jail, which is where they’re going to be, it’s going to cost you a lot more than that,” Ross told commissioners in July. “Sheriff Lawson will just be in here asking you for more money.”

Ross also told commissioner in July, “It doesn’t just affect the ones who can’t pay for it. It wouldn’t be ethical for me to say, ‘If you can afford it, I’m going to let you out of jail on a GPS monitor. If you can’t afford it, you've got to stay in jail.’ Then we're discriminating based on their ability to pay.”

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