Facility location prompts concern

For the Daily Journal

A new facility would offer more room for classes and programs and to house offenders sentenced to work release, but residents are concerned about it being close to neighborhoods and schools.

The county wants to build a three-story community corrections facility at the northeast corner of Drake and Hospital roads on the west side of Franklin.

If approved, the new facility, estimated to cost $4 million to $5 million, would be built in the next two to three years, replacing the 28-year-old building that currently houses the work release and home detention programs. County officials have said the new facility is needed to make more room for offenders, especially women in the work release program, and to have room for classes and programs for drug and alcohol abuse and anger management.

But first, the county would need to get approval from the city of Franklin because that type of facility is not currently allowed on the property.

Both residents and city officials urged the county to consider another location for the facility in a meeting this week. The proposed location is close to apartments and neighborhoods with children, and they are concerned about offenders being near homes.

“I do understand the county’s need for proximity, but you have families, schools and other things there,” said Amy Richardson, owner of the nearby City View Farms apartments.

Franklin Mayor Joe McGuinness suggested putting the facility on the east side of U.S. 31, near the industrial park and Franklin Police Department, which would not be close to homes, he said.

“I support the programming, and I want to create a solution. These services do need to be centrally located, but I don’t see why it needs to be in that location,” McGuinness said.

County officials said they are not considering another location. The two-acre property was donated to the county by Johnson Memorial Hospital.

The location is across the street from the Johnson County Jail, allowing both facilities to share food for inmates and offenders, which would save money.

The county also would not have to purchase the property, the sewer system would not have to be redone and transportation to and from the jail would be easy, Commissioner Ron West said.

Offenders in the programs at the facility are typically on probation and have committed less serious crimes, such as theft or operating a vehicle while intoxicated, local officials said.

“We are dealing with people who want to be productive,” West said. “They have some motivation to retain hope.”

With a new facility, the county hopes to be able to expand the work release program to have space for 160 offenders, compared to 100 now, freeing up space at the county jail, which has been overcrowded in the past, West said.

The county would also be able to offer classes and programs that would help offenders, such as with addiction.

“Our ultimate goal is to provide every service possible,” West said.

The current plan is to use the first and third floors for offices and programs, and the second floor would house offenders in the work release program who leave every day for work, West said.

Residents also asked if fences would be installed around the facility.

The county is not planning to install fences, but landscaping and trees are planned, West said. If the city required fencing, the county would install it, he said.

The county would still need to get approval for a use variance from the Franklin Board of Zoning Appeals, site development plan approval from the Franklin Technical Review Committee and get needed permits. County officials will also need to approve borrowing money for the facility.

The goal is to start construction within the next two to three years or as soon as possible, West said.