Program Hopes to Keep Released Inmates From Returning to Jail

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Hamblen County (WVLT) - Jail overcrowding means building new jails, and often raising your taxes to do it. Hamblen County is ready to open a jail expansion, but it's not enough to keep up with a growing need.

Volunteer TV's Rob Pratt has more on how that county is trying to keep people out of jail.

When the new addition to the Hamblen County jail opens in the next few days, it will house 65 female inmates. Jailers don't expect Jill Williams to be one of them.
A year or two ago, this recovering drug addict might very well have been locked up here. Or worse.

"I would be six feet under probably," Williams said.

Williams says what kept her alive, out of jail, and clean is a program called Moral Recognition Therapy. For some, the program is an alternative to lockup. For others, it's a bridge that turns their release from jail into true freedom. Williams was one of the first seven graduates. For her the program took over a year.

It was a time of setting goals and working closely with others who shared her struggles.

"It is very promising, it's very uplifting to see others come through this program and do well, because you know what the outcome could be," Williams said.

"It's not a soft on crime program, that's not what we're here for. We're here to try to keep people out of our system and out of committing the crime," said Don Baird, who teaches the class.

Those who teach the program admit a couple of people who went through it have wound up back in jail, but with a jail full of repeat offenders, the sheriff welcomes a program that helps even a few.

"If you can prevent one or two people from coming back through the revolving door then it's a success story," Sheriff Esco Jarnigan said.

"You can fail yourself, but this program cannot fail you. If you choose to make the change and go forward in life it's a non-failable program," Williams said.

No one we talked to thinks Moral Recognition Therapy classes a per week will solve the entire problem, but they are part of the solution.

Sheriff Jarnigan is also trying to restart the the jail's G.E.D. Program, hoping to help inmates leave jail with a degree and new hope.

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