County rejects ankle bracelets

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Could have been test of less costly jail alternatives

By Damon Lawrence

A plan to appropriate $25,000 for an ankle-bracelet monitoring program failed to pass the Roane County Commission Monday night. Six commissioners voted for the resolution, and six voted against it.
“Motion fails for lack of a majority,” Chairman James Brummett declared.
Officials said an ankle bracelet program could have helped alleviate some of the overcrowding issues at the Roane County Jail.
“How many (inmates) would be eligible? We don’t know all that because it is really between the DA and the judges,” County Executive Ron Woody said. “This gives us the opportunity, gives the judicial system an opportunity to use this form if they want to for punishment.”
The program would have been in effect through June 30, which marks the end of the county’s fiscal year.
“I would like to go ahead and implement it to see if it’s going to be beneficial or not,” Commissioner Chris Johnson said. “This gives us a field of study to say, ‘Hey, did it work or not?’ It’s sort of a trial and error.”
While the county would have been providing the funding, it would have been up to the judicial system to determine which inmates would qualify for the program.
“If the judicial system chooses not to use it, it hasn’t cost us anything,” Woody said.
Last month, Sheriff Jack Stockton expressed some reservations about ankle bracelets. In addition to concerns about the program getting out of control, Stockton said he also didn’t want ankle bracelets used to give people with two and three convictions a slap on the wrist. 
“I understand the sheriff didn’t necessarily like this,” Commissioner Nick Forrester said.
“I don’t want to speak for the sheriff, but once again, this is not a sheriff’s tool,” Johnson said. “It’s a judges’ tool.”
Commissioner Stanley Moore made a motion to postpone the resolution for 30 days, but it failed. Moore said he thought a lot of unanswered questions about the program could have been answered in the coming weeks by delaying the resolution for a month. 
“I understand your concerns, but what we’re saying this is for a short amount of time, and those questions will be answered during that short time,” Johnson said. “Now if you don’t give us time, then you can ask the questions and nobody will know the answers.” 
Moore wasn’t the only commissioner who had questions about the program.
“All I know about is what I’ve read in the paper,” Commissioner Ron Berry said. “I’ve talked to the district attorney. I’ve talked to one of the sessions judges. I’ve talked to the sheriff, and I still don’t know how it’s going to work. When do they (inmates) qualify? Do they have to be sentenced? Are they on bond?”
The resolution said the ankle bracelets would be used for “low-risk offenders,” but Berry expressed some concerns about the safeness of the program.
“There are a lot of folks in the community when you say ankle bracelets that get a little jumpy,” he said. 
Commissioners Copper Bacon, Brummett, Randy Ellis, Jerry Goddard, Johnson and Fred Tedder voted in favor of the ankle bracelet program. Commissioners Berry, Ray Cantrell, Benny East, Forrester, Moore and George Nelson voted against it.    
Commissioners Bobby Collier, Carolyn Granger and Steve Kelley were not present for the vote.