Greene County Sheriff’s Dept. makes changes to prevent inmate work-detail escapes

GREENE COUNTY, TN (WJHL) – The Greene County Sheriff’s Department admits there were red flags with the recent inmates who walked off work details over the summer. That’s prompting them to make some changes to its program.

News Channel 11 talked to officials about how these changes are ensuring people in the community are kept safe and inmates stay on the job.

Go anywhere in Greene County and you’re likely to see an inmate working in the community. Normally, 60 of them work on-location– fixing cars at the county garage or caring for animals at the humane society.

“This is a really, really good program and they do a lot of work,” said Butch Patterson, parks and rec director. “…weeding, mowing, picking up trash, cleaning restrooms, painting….”

All that work saves Greene County an estimated $1.2 million every year. But the program comes with its own challenges.

Even though, inmates working on-location are monitored by employees trained by the Greene County sheriff’s office, escapes still happen– like the one last month at the Greeneville Rec Center.

An inmate working in the gym asked his supervisor to go to the bathroom. Instead, he walked out the door and stole a city vehicle.

  • See also: Stolen government truck found after Greene Co. inmate escapes work detail

Within days of that escape, another Greene County inmate walked off another work detail.

We reached out to jails across the Tri-Cities and found out nearly 20 inmates have escaped from work details in roughly the last 5 years.

But the most recent walk-offs in Greene County actually prompted the sheriff’s department to temporarily suspend its program.

“There were some red flags,” said Roger Willett, Greene County Sheriff’s Office, jail administrator. “We have to be a lot tighter on the ones that we are sending out. We can’t take chances on individuals that have had issues in the past.”

Willett heads up the work detail program, which was reinstated a few weeks ago with some changes.

He admits the most recent inmates may not have been good candidates to work in the community– saying they had issues with failing to appear in court and evading arrest charges.

Inmates will also start out in the most secure job sites, like at jail– before moving to less secure sites like Tusculum College.

“It will probably be the individuals [who] have proven they have done well at other crews, they’ve pulled their time in here as they’re getting ready to get out. We can put them in positions where they can have a little bit more trust involved,” said Willett.

But inmates will no longer be able to work at the less secure sites on the weekends after last month’s escape at the Greeneville Rec Center.

Patterson says he understands why the decision was made but parks and rec is already seeing the effects of being shorthanded on the weekends.

“We have one maintenance guy. So we’ve been, over the years past, relying on having one or two or maybe even three inmates…” said Patterson.

Willett says the sheriff’s office may re-evaluate that decision in the coming months, but for now, their priority is making sure inmates are staying on the job.In an investigation earlier this year, we discovered roughly 3 dozen inmates have escaped or have attempted to escape from police custody, jail, or work details in our region.

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