Hawkins judge building fund he hopes will someday pay for halfway house

Jeff Bobo • May 15, 2019 at 7:00 PM

ROGERSVILLE — Hawkins County Sessions Court Judge J. Todd Ross’ Recovery Court program guided 25 offenders through completion of long-term rehabilitation programs in 2018.

Those patients spent 9-18 months making productive use of their time in a rehab program rather than wasting it in jail, but the next concern after rehab is if those patients continue to succeed.

On Tuesday, Ross shared with Hawkins County commissioners his goal of creating a halfway house in the county to helping recovering addicts succeed after treatment.

Ross appeared before the Budget Committee on the last of three days of hearings for the 2019-20 fiscal year budget.

The only changes to the Sessions Court and Recovery Court budgets were mandated salary scale bumps for his staff, as well as the state-mandated annual pay increase for the judge.

Recovery Court operates on a $50,000 state grant, which basically covers the salary and benefits of program director Amy Cinnamon.

Any additional expenses are covered from a restricted account in the budget for alcohol and drug treatment which receives $100 from the fines paid by anyone convicted of DUI in Hawkins County.

County Finance Director Eric Buchanan said that fund currently has $289,520.

“My hope is that when we get to the point where we have resources to handle it, I would like to ask for that money to be transferred into the Hawkins County Recovery Court foundation to purchase a home to be used as a halfway house for some of our Recovery Court people who don’t have anywhere to go,” Ross told the commission. “Instead of just releasing them back out onto the streets — having some place looking after them where they can go. That’s our hope for that. In the meantime, we’ve just been using a little bit of it each year to offset the budget on Recovery Court.”

Although 25 people completed long-term rehab in 2018, Ross said there are still many receiving help, in the process of completing rehab.

“We’re trying to offer that and put some services in the jail now to try to make sure that we ones we send are the ones who really want to get some help,” Ross said. “Community Justice started an MRT program which is a 12-week-long group counseling program. Most of them complete that before I will let them go to rehab because a lot of them go and then turn around and leave. We’re trying to increase that number of successful (rehab completions).”

Ross added, “To me, 25 people completing (long-term rehab) is wonderful. That’s 25 people who would have spent a year or two years sitting in jail. Then they would have gotten out with nothing in their pockets, whereas these people, by the time they finish the programs we send them to, they’ve got jobs, they’re living on their own, they’re contributing. Most of them end up coming back to Juvenile Court to try to get to see their kids, pay child support. Eighteen months for them is a lot different than 18 months sitting in jail.”

None of that rehab is paid by the county, Ross noted. Those are state-funded Frontier Health programs.