Board terminates Probation’s use of City Hall for parolee check-ins

The Oakland Board of Mayor and Aldermen has unanimously terminated the Tennessee Department of Probation’s use of City Hall for parolees’ weekly check-ins.
Board members took the action during their March 21 regular monthly meeting on a motion offered by Alderman Billy Ray Morris and seconded by Alderman Kelly Rector.
The motion gave the Probation Department two weeks to discontinue its use of the City Courtroom. Those two weeks ended last Thursday.
Mayor Chris Goodman said the Probation Department, which is a division of the Tennessee Department of Corrections, had used Oakland City Hall for this activity “since a couple of administrations back.” During business hours each Thursday, approximately 35 parolees came by and “checked in” with two to four representatives of the Corrections Department.
About five of those are convicted sex offenders, Goodman said. The rest are other types of parolees.
The mayor noted that Oakland did not receive any compensation for providing its facilities.
In the past, he said, the Corrections Department used Moscow City Hall until its space was no longer available. Prior to that, it used the old Somerville City Jail.
“That space was no longer available, which is why they contacted Oakland,” he said. “And this space was made available to them.”
During discussion before the vote, Goodman said statistics revealed that the rate of “criminal activity” around the area where the parolees checked in was “extremely low, almost negative.” He also noted that the Oakland Police Department was informed of outstanding warrants issued for any of the parolees, and “multiple arrests” had been made “without any confrontation.”
“Anyone who comes into this building is recorded in the parking lot, so there is safety,” the mayor said. “As a matter of fact, the police department is monitoring the building and the parking lot at all times.”
Because a concern had been raised about the parolees’ use of the City Hall restrooms to provide samples for urine tests, Goodman said the law required them to be escorted by a parole officer in and out of the “secured area.”
But Morris said he believes that, if the board can “save one life here in Oakland,” it will be worth it.
“Oakland is a clean community,” he noted. “It’s crime-free, and let’s keep it like that.”
If a parolee violated his parole, Morris said, the police department would still have to transport him to Somerville.
“Just save us the gas and money expense,” he said. “Let Somerville take a turn at it now. The people I’ve talked to do not want this in the community.”
While expressing appreciation for Morris’ comments, Goodman noted that some of the parolees are residents of Oakland, and the board cannot remove them from the town.
“We’re not running them out of the community,” Morris responded. “We’re just saying, ‘You are not going to use our City Hall.’”
When Alderman John Troncone questioned whether the board should provide a “convenience” to a parolee, Goodman said there are two ways to look at it.
If the Corrections Department cannot find a location for the Fayette County parolees to check in, he said they will be required to go to Jackson, where the department’s offices are located.
“A number of them don’t have driver’s licenses, so they have to find transportation there,” the mayor said. “And some of them even walked to here. When they were in Somerville, they would walk to those meetings.”
If the parolees are not able to get to Jackson, Goodman said, they will not be reporting to their parole officers. Then, Oakland will not be aware of their status, and they will be “more apt” to “recommit a crime” or get into “some other activity.”
“It does make it convenient for the parolees to be able to get here,” the mayor acknowledged. “It’s more centrally located than Jackson.”
In response to a question by Alderman Karl Chambless, City Attorney Richard Myers said the board would not be creating any “legal or civil rights issues” by not allowing the Probation Department to use the City Courtroom for the check-ins. Calling it “really kind of a commercial issue,” he said the board could probably require the department to rent the space rather than provide it free.
But Myers noted that, if the space is provided to anyone, the town must have a non-discrimination policy for its use.
While he believes the parolees should not be given the “convenience” of reporting to Oakland City Hall, Troncone said he understood Goodman’s point about their need to find transportation to Somerville or Jackson.
“If they don’t show up, they become vagrants, people in our community who end up going to cause another crime,” he noted. “Obviously, I don’t want them in our town, but I just want to think of both sides.”
Chambless said it is hard for him to believe that there is not a 50-by-50-foot room inside the Fayette County Criminal Justice Center in Somerville that the Corrections Department could use.
Goodman said he was scheduled to talk with county officials later that week about whether they can find a place in the county seat.
“All I can do is bring it up and ask them,” he told Chambless. “I understand what you’re saying, and I would think there would be better places as well. But this is something I just tackled on my 11th day on the job, and I’m doing what I can.”