The Rhea County Commission voted on Tuesday night to officially establish an alcohol and drug treatment program as an alternative to prison for certain people convicted of drug offenses.
The program’s official title is the Twelfth Judicial District Drug Court and according to its charter, it is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. The funding for this program will come from D.U.I. fines collected in the Rhea County Circuit and Sessions Courts.
Judge Buddy D. Perry spoke to the Commission in favor of the resolution. He told the story of a man named Robert who had been in and out of prison for years but finally turned his life around after completing the Drug Court program.
He also explained the economic facts surrounding the program. He said that currently, it costs approximately $50 day for each inmate in the county facility and $74 for each state inmate. He said this mostly comes from taxpayer money.
However, he said the average cost of each person in the Drug Court program was only around $9.07 per day and it would be funded entirely through the D.U.I. fund and federal grants.
He said the program would only be for drug users, not people selling drugs.
Bradley County District Attorney Steve Bebb also spoke. He said, “I had to change my mindset as a prosecutor. I realized this is something that we need.” He told the commission, “The general mindset of the D.A. is ‘lock them up, do the time.’” However, he said this strategy was not working.
He said, “We’re not winning the war on drugs.” He talked about the history of this policy. The “War on Drugs” was started by former President Richard Nixon in the 1970s and remains controversial.
He said, “We have 5 percent of the world’s population, but we have 25 percent of the people in jail in the world.”
District Attorney Bebb and Judge Perry both agreed the Drug Court program was not meant to replace personal accountability. However, Judge Perry pointed out that of the people sent to state prison, 83 percent are back within two years of their release. He said out of the people who successfully complete the Drug Court program, only 25 percent go back to jail.
He said to the Commission that only three things can happen to drug users: they can go to jail, they can die, or they can change. He explained emotionally that his 27-year-old son had died because of drugs.
He said, “It’s time for Rhea County citizens to be able to benefit from this program.”
The resolution to create the program passed unanimously, but afterward several members of the community objected. June Griffin, head of the Rhea County Tea Party, said she thought a faith-based organization would be better. She said of the current resolution, “It will be run by the IRS and liberals coming in with their money.”
At the meeting, several other resolutions were also passed, including a salary supplement to employees of the Sheriff’s Department. The 30 officers each received an additional $600, which will be subject to applicable taxes.
A grant application for federal funding for the Rhea County Fire Department was also approved as well as a resolution establishing the 2014 holidays for county employees.
Rhea County Commission members
- Photo2 by Hollie Webb