The Hamilton County Grand Jury in a final report says criminal offenders are tended to, but victims of crime are often neglected.
The panel, headed by Marsha Crabtree, said the Tennessee Criminal Injury Compensation Fund is the only help offered victims and it is only available as a last resort.
The panel also called for a new County Jail.
The report says, "The present jail is over 30 years old and of an obsolete design that is totally incompatible with current needs – and a staffing and maintenance nightmare."
The grand jurors also said a new Juvenile detention facility is needed.
Here is the full report:
HAMILTON COUNTY, TENNESSEE
REGULAR GRAND JURY
December 17, 2008
Honorable Don Poole, Judge
Criminal Court, Division III
Hamilton County, Tennessee
Dear Judge Poole,
We members of the Regular Grand Jury for the September – December 2008 term appreciate this opportunity to serve the Court and our community in this very important capacity. It has been a very educational and enlightening experience. We can understand much better why it is so important for all citizens to serve on the Grand Jury when given the opportunity. We also feel very strongly that all local officials should be required to serve on the Grand Jury.
We have benefited enormously during these four months by gaining a greater perspective and understanding of our judicial system, the undeterred and chronic criminal element in our community, and the overwhelming challenge facing our law enforcement officers every single day.
Rather than restate the many credible observations and recommendations put forth in many past Grand Jury Final Reports, we prefer to say that we concur with all of them and feel that they continue to merit serious consideration by every concerned citizen and official of Hamilton County. We are amazed that most of what has been reported by Grand Juries for the past 20 years is essentially the same as what we feel to be true even today – the same frustrations, questions and concerns; the same calls for attention to and correction of many apparent problems; the same observations and recommendations, etc.
HAMILTON COUNTY JAIL
We were impressed with the management and staff of the Jail. We commend them for their professionalism and ability to handle the many challenges they face each day. The present Jail is over 30 years old and of an obsolete design that is totally incompatible with current needs – and a staffing and maintenance nightmare.
This Grand Jury agrees with others that Hamilton County needs a new Jail. Until such time that the County seriously considers a new larger, well-designed facility, there continue to be several compelling needs within the Jail that must be addressed. We hope that the County Commission makes funding available for the requested significant and necessary upgrades to the various systems, as well as for additional staff.
We enjoyed the lunch and appreciate the very cost-efficient kitchen management. The contraband display and discussion about gangs was very interesting.
Once again, we request that the newest Magistrates service the needs of the Jail for at least a few hours during the daytime hours between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m.
JUVENILE JUSTICE CENTER
We commend the staff and many volunteers at this facility and thank them for their efforts, often under trying circumstances, to attempt to make a difference in the lives of the juveniles in their temporary care. We urgently request that the State reinstate the critical Intensive Probation program and increase the funding in the next budget.
Like the past Grand Juries, we ask that Hamilton County pursue plans and funding for a local Juvenile Correctional Facility that would be a much more comprehensive facility than the present juvenile holding facility. As seen in the daily news, violent crimes committed by juveniles are a huge problem for our community and the nation. More and more young offenders are being transferred to ADULT Criminal Court each year because of the nature or scope of their crimes. The hope of everyone in support of a local correctional facility is to reach and teach the at-risk children at an early age before they are irretrievably lost to the criminal system.
BUT WHAT ABOUT THE VICTIMS?
During our tours of the Hamilton County penal facilities, it was interesting, and also frustrating, to learn about the major focus on the level of care and numerous services and programs provided for the prisoners. Frustrating because it seems like the victims of crime receive little or nothing in comparison from the state and must try to pick up the pieces of their lives and move on the best they can. We do not condone the mistreatment of prisoners in any form and agree that the basic needs of those incarcerated should be addressed. However, we can’t help but feel that the concern for their care is overwhelming when compared to what appears to be a much lesser degree of concern or assistance for the many victims of crime.
Considering the enormous amount of money spent for the care and well being of the prisoners, we are somewhat relieved to learn that there is at least something available for some of the victims of personal injury crimes – IF they qualify for this limited financial aid. The Tennessee Criminal Injury Compensation Fund is a “last resort” fund, paid for by fines, penalties and fees assessed against those convicted of crimes in the state. Some federal funds are also used. Information about the fund is available from the District Attorney’s Office.
The problem with this program is that it is a “last resort” fund and is not a guaranteed aid at all. The applicant must be an innocent victim of violent crime and must meet very strict guidelines to be eligible for financial assistance. As far as we can determine, there is no program to help victims of other types of crime.
We feel like this program is insufficient, but it is better than nothing, and we are glad to know that it does exist. We strongly urge the Governor to increase the funding for this Criminal Injury Compensation Fund. Perhaps the General Assembly can enact legislation that will also help other victims of crime. Spending less money on the prisoners might create more funding for assisting their victims.
GENERAL COMMENTS & RECOMMENDATIONS
Over all, we were very impressed with our area law enforcement officers during their presence before us. However, we would like to request that law enforcement training place a greater emphasis on better written & more comprehensive reports by their officers. Too often, some basic information about the crime seemed to be missing or hard to understand – and some officers could not even read their own handwriting! The majority of officers were well-prepared.
We citizens/Grand Jurors understand that budget shortfalls in all areas of government contribute to many of the areas we feel need improvement. Past Grand Juries have commented on the same problems and needs of our criminal and judicial system. However, these continue to be concerns that merit comment, with the hope that eventually our legislators will take note of the problems faced on a daily basis by all law enforcement, corrections officers, the DA’s Office, the Courts, and the judicial system as a whole.
Rather than again list or summarize the many credible observations and recommendations, we wish to say that we concur with them and feel very strongly the necessity to remind everyone of their significance. Community leaders cannot say that they haven’t been alerted many times by the Grand Jury to the potential problems of major concern in our system.
We thank the following people for their assistance and support during our term:
Amy Northern, Edna Camp, Gwen Tidwell and the staff of the Criminal Court Clerk’s Office; Jamie Brown and Peggy Hudson of the D.A.’s Office; Court Liaison Officers SGT. Brenda Hafley and SGT Lee Robbs of the Chattanooga Police Dept.; Deputy Morris Bice of the Sheriff’s Dept., and the Courts Building Security Officers and personnel.
Sheriff’s Deputy Bobby Williams, our driver-escort on the facility tours.
The administration and staff members who conducted our tours through Silverdale, the Jail and the Juvenile Justice Center. We greatly appreciate their time and very informative tours.
Law enforcement for their tireless and dangerous efforts on behalf of all of us. To those officers injured on duty, we wish you a successful recovery. To the officers who have been, are now, or will soon be deployed in the U.S. Military, we salute and thank you for your sacrifice and service to our country.
Diana Kodadek for taking the official Grand Jury notes this term.
Assistant D.A. Jerry Sloan and Foreman Marsha Crabtree for their guidance, assistance and explanations during our sessions this term.
Respectfully submitted by the members of the
HAMILTON COUNTY REGULAR GRAND JURY