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Tablets for inmates draw mixed opinions

By DAVID MELSON - dmelson@t-g.com
Posted 12/27/22

A proposed three-year contract for tablets to be assigned to Bedford County Jail inmates will be sent to the full Bedford County Commission with a favorable recommendation, but not everyone in …

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Tablets for inmates draw mixed opinions


A proposed three-year contract for tablets to be assigned to Bedford County Jail inmates will be sent to the full Bedford County Commission with a favorable recommendation, but not everyone in attendance at a committee meeting last Tuesday.

Lt. Chris Cook, programs director at the jail, told the commission’s Law Enforcement Committee he wants inmates departing the jail to know more than before their sentences began.

“I see this as just another program we offer at the jail,” Cook said.

But commissioners Eric Maddox and Drew Hooker expressed disapproval. Both said everyone they’d talked with is against the program. Many constituents disagree with inmates having access to email, videos, and other forms of entertainment in a jail cell, Maddox said.

Maddox is concerned about inmates’ ability to “root” a tablet, bypassing internal limitations on their use, and said they’d have many hours each day to take such action.

Jail supervisors and the system vendor can monitor the tablets’ use and unallowed activities by an individual can lead to loss of the privilege, Cook said.

He said the good of the program outweighs any potential problems.

That didn’t sway Maddox, who said he’d talked with jail supervisors in several other counties and all had problems with inmate tablet use. Some have discontinued the programs, Maddox said.

Inmates in one county Maddox cited have allegedly damaged tablets and used their batteries to power other devices.

“This is absolutely not a good idea and I’m against it,” Maddox said.

One commissioner, speaking from the audience, said his 9-year-son's friend of similar age had hacked into the Bedford County School System’s network and accessed teachers’ emails. He expressed concern inmates could take such actions with tablets.

The recommendation passed 4-1 with Maddox disapproving. Hooker is not a member of that committee.

New meeting site

County committee meetings may be moving to the larger room where full commission meetings are held, the Courthouse and Property Committee declared following standing-room conditions in the smaller Community Room Tuesday.

A motion to move will be on the full commission’s January agenda following an unanimous vote.

Commissioner Drew Hooker said a move would make it easier and more accessible for constituents to attend meetings.

Hooker also expressed concern that committee meetings start too early. Three committees meet consecutively beginning at 5 p.m. on the third Tuesday of each month.

Commissioner Mark Thomas said he feels the acoustics aren’t good in the large former courtroom and urged that committee meetings be returned to their former location in the county’s Dover Street office building. Thomas cited better sound conditions and a much larger room.

The county’s IT director, Josh Carney, said it requires an outside company to set up the larger room, with only two wireless microphones available.

Ethics policy

The Rules and Legislative Committee voted to recommend the full commission adopt the model CTAS updated ethics policy.

Commissioners with conflicts of interest may vote on the entire county budget without verbally declaring a conflict, but must continue doing for individual items.

Zoning change

Two representatives of Bedford Market, Highway 64 West, asked the Rules and Legislative Committee to change the 2,000-foot rule banning beer sales near churches and schools.

Board chair P.T. “Biff” Farrar explained they need to reach out to their district’s commissioners, Anita Epperson and Diane Neeley, who can begin guiding the request through the committee process. Neeley was already talking to them before the meeting ended.

Farrar also warned them that the store’s location – across the highway from New Bethel Baptist Church and beside Bedford Church of Christ on Bethlehem Church Road – could affect any chance of approval.

Zoning talk deferred

Discussion on a resolution to amend Bedford County’s zoning regulations being deferred until the Rules and Legislative Committee’s January or February meeting. Commissioner Greg Vick said more study is needed and Bedford County Planning Commission needs to be involved.

Homeless help

The need for shelter for the homeless during extreme cold was discussed.

Castle Ministries on Madison Street is open in extreme conditions, and Fair Haven Baptist Church on Highway 231 North opens as a shelter in the event of extended power outages lasting longer than several hours, the committee was told.

Pop-up kennels, left over from a hoarding case a few years ago, are available from Bedford County Animal Control.

Commissioner Drew Hooker updated the Rules and Legislative Committee on the joint city-county homeless task force being formed.

Shelbyville City Manager Scott Collins is naming the city’s members, Hooker said.

“Bedford County does not need to be a resettling ground for refugees,” Hooker said, expressing concerns about an influx larger than the area can handle.

Response time

One commissioner asked during the Law Enforcement Committee how Bedford County Sheriff’s Office handles deputies’ response times to service calls.

“We have 480 square miles covered by four to six deputies on each shift,” Sheriff Austin Swing said. “You try to get them there with as much as you’ve got as quick as you can.”

Response time are much faster at night due to less traffic, Swing said.

Intruder drills

The Law Enforcement Committee was told by a representative of Bedford County Emergency Management Agency that intruder drills will continue through February in Bedford County schools. A bomb threat drill at Shelbyville Central High was said to have gone well.

Deferred decisions

Commissioner Linda Yockey told the Courthouse and Property Committee, of which she is not a member, that constituents had complained of deferrals they suspect are intentional in the handling of various issues.

She urged the committee – and the entire commission – to give specific reasons why issues are being deferred.

Woodson honor

A proposal in the Rules and Legislative Committee to name the Sims Road bridge over the Duck River for former county executive (as the mayor’s office was then known), commissioner, and longtime educator Jimmy Woodson was sent to the full commission with a favorable recommendation.

“He was a great man. We’re honored that you shared him with us,” Farrar said to Woodson’s widow, Charlene Woodson.

Members commented on how much Woodson had done for Bedford County, going back to his years as a teacher and principal. Several commented that Woodson in his later years volunteered to drive a school bus during a driver shortage, and appeared to enjoy that more than all his previous positions.