Freels seeks drug rehab facility at Plateau Park

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By Goose Lindsay

Two big problems facing Morgan County heading into 2018 is overcrowding at the county jail and drug addiction.

Both seem to go hand-in-hand as the majority of inmates at the county’s jail are there on drug related charges, many of which are repeat offenders.

Morgan County is currently looking for an architect to come up with a plan to relieve the overcrowding at the jail through renovation at the current facility or building a state of the art justice center. A key component to both plans will be ways to fight the county’s drug problems through rehabilitation.

Morgan County Commissioner Dennis Freels, however, thinks there is another option that focuses primarily on the drug problem through building a drug rehabilitation facility at Plateau Partnership Park near the Roane, Cumberland and Morgan County borders.

“What we’re doing in incarcerating the addicts is not working,” Freels said. “We have a 95 to 98 percent recidivism rate and to me that’s failure. It’s just a revolving door for some of them.

“There are programs out there that work. I visited a rehab facility in Murfreesboro. They gave me a complete tour of their operation and they’re boasting a 60 percent success rate. When they complete the program they’re going back into society working and taking care of their family.”

“I’ve also talked with the people at the prison (Morgan County Correctional Complex). They have a drug court program down there and they tell me they’re having a 65 to 70 percent success rate.

“How can we not want to go along with that?”

Freels’ passion about the subject comes from personal experience and a love for Morgan County.

“I’ve lived in this county all my life and I think no matter where you go in this county you see somebody that is on drugs,” he said. “I bet there isn’t one family in this whole county that hasn’t been affected one way or another by drugs. I’ve lost family members because of drugs.

“My view is they’re addicts, but they’re more than that. They’re are sons, daughters, aunts, uncles and neighbors. If you’ve ever lost a family member to addiction, I know you would rather get them help than lock them up. You can put them in a cell and punish them or you can put them somewhere else and try to get them help.”

Freels is still looking into the program. Besides touring facilities in Murfreesboro and at MCCX, he has spoken with various county and state officials, and feels pretty much everyone agrees simply incarcerating drug addicts is not the solution. He says the answer is teaching them a different lifestyle so they don’t fall into their old routine once released from jail.

“Instead of sitting in a jail cell put them into a work camp type deal,” he said. “Give them some vocational training. We have those resources already. If we could come up with a plan I think we can make an impact.

“Down at the state they have a garden, they teach them to take care of themselves. We need to get them dried out and teach them basic life skills.

“You empty them out of drugs and have an empty mind that you fill with good stuff then how can it not help? When they get out now, without other options, they go right back to the same situation they were in. It’s what they know. We have to teach them something good.”

Freels also thinks it will take community involvement, especially by area churches.

“Of the two facilities I’ve been to what makes them work is they have local churches helping them. They have community involvement,” he said. “Like it or not this is our problem and as a community we need to step up and do something about it.”

Freels thinks the ideal spot for such a facility is Plateau Partnership Park.

“We already have that land,” he said. There’s 300 acres in Morgan County that will probably never be used for the industrial part they are building. The land will probably just sit there so I say take something we already own, take prison labor and build the facility.”

He thinks the facility could benefit Roane and Cumberland County as well.

“We could co-op with the other two counties and we could all be helped by it,” he said.

Another possible scenario of Freels’ plan is allowing inmates to work private sector jobs while incarcerated.

“The place in Murfreesboro allows some of their inmates to go out and work jobs,” he said. “They’re working them back into society. They then take that money for room and board, they can pay their fines before they get out of jail, and a lot of them have a lump of money saved up to where they can get a new life started.”

Freels admits his plan is only in the early stages, and others need to be involved, but he thinks there is help beyond the county’s borders for such a project.

“I think there are people out there that know a lot more about this than me. We need to get their advice and guidance to come up with something that will work,” he said.

“President Trump has said it’s an epidemic. I think there is grant money out there to help us. I think there are volunteer organizations that would help us. The people out at the prison said they would supply us labor and give us structure. The help is there, we just have to get it together.”