Bridging the Gap: Jail inmates need help ‘to get on right track’

Bridging the Gap

(Editor’s Note: Watch for Bridging the Gap stories each Monday night at 6.
We will focus on re-entry programs at the detention facility – the largest jail in East Tennessee and will talk with Knox County Sheriff’s Office employees who work directly with inmates to find out how the programs work and how our community can get involved. If your business is hiring former inmates and wants to be featured on our program, email Lori at ltucker@wate.com.)

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – The same inmates are coming in and going out of the Roger D. Wilson Detention Facility.

Drugs and alcohol are behind most of the crimes, leading to the ongoing overcrowding problem.

The maximum number of inmates the detention facility is designed to hold is 1,036.

But right now, 1,233 are packed into the pods.

The Knox County Sheriff’s Office is trying to stop that revolving door.

But they can’t do it alone. They need your help.

During our visit to the detention center, several inmates were yelling, trying to get our attention about the overcrowding problem.

One inmate who’s lived in crowded conditions there since late February is 28-year-old Yusif Hamed. He’s been in and out of jail for years.

“I stole a CD player out of a car, and kinda got railroaded in court, got five years in prison for it, and didn’t get probation or anything. Since then, I really haven’t been able to get out of the system,” Hamed told us.

Chief Steve Bravo has walked the halls at the center for 20 years, knows each inmate’s story, and is tired of seeing the same faces here for the same reasons: Addiction to drugs, alcohol or both is part of the problem for 75% of the inmates.

“We need to do something, ” Bravo says. “These are people that have made mistakes and we need to get them on the right track.”

We asked, “so you’re saying most of these inmates can be rehabilitated?”

Bravo says, “absolutely, absolutely. We need to open doors for when they get out of here. The problem is, they come in here, they stay six months, and they don’t have anything when they leave. Family members are tired of helping them.”

He added, “we have a few that I don’t believe are ready to get back in society but it’s not as many as people think.”

Yusif Hamed says there is hope for him. Intensive treatment programs at the center have helped him turn his outlook around.

“I used to drink and I used to smoke marijuana, ” he says. “It teaches us that our problems are a lot deeper than the things we do. The things we do wrong are a symptom of our problem. ” He went on to say, “it’s definitely done a lot for me.”

Lt. LaTeesha Fritts is director of programs and says a lack of education is also part of the problem. At least 30% of the inmates did not graduate from high school.

Fritts says: “You’ll be surprised. I’ve talked to some people and they don’t have past the fourth-grade education level.”

Yusif Hamed is headed for a three-year prison term soon, but hopes what he has learned here at the detention center will help him one day stay out of trouble.

“My biggest goal, ” he says, “is to never come back.”

There is an immediate and desperate need for tutors to teach elementary to middle to high school levels to help inmates get their GED.

If you’d like to help call the Knox County Sheriff’s Office Programs at 865-281-6900. Or email programs@knoxsheriff.org.

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