Mayors and Other Leaders Tour Former Roan Mountain Jail | News
ROAN MOUNTAIN — Mayors, state senators, state officials and other county and city government leaders from the eight counties in Tennessee’s First Development District spent part of Friday touring a former jail of Roan Mountain.
More than 50 local leaders passed through the former Northeast Correctional Complex labor camp, although the Department of Corrections denied access to print and television reporters. The state closed the facility last year as a prison, but it remains in good condition and ready for its next mission. Criminal Court Judges Lisa Rice and Stacy Street of the 1st Judicial District and Jim Goodwin of the 2nd Judicial District believe the next mission should be to house a drug rehabilitation program that would be directly overseen by the judges. The judges have spent much of their personal time over the past few months going before county commissions and city councils in the region’s eight counties to convince those legislative bodies to help fund such a treatment center with the million dollars that local governments received as part of a legal settlement of a lawsuit against certain pharmaceutical companies.
On Friday, many of these local officials gathered at the former labor camp to tour the building where their potential investment would go. The judges showed them around the dormitories and other living quarters that would house people sent by the courts to change their lives. The judges were aided by state lawmakers like Sen. Rusty Crowe and Rep. Tim Hicks on how the state would administer the program and facilities. Crowe certainly saw the evolution of the labor camp. He represented Roan Mountain when it opened as an annex of Mountain City Jail.
He said he and other lawmakers representing the community fought plans to close the Roan Mountain Annex. Since its inception, Crowe said he has seen the contributions the prison has made to the community. Not only did it provide jobs for guards and other staff, but he said it proved invaluable as a labor camp by providing free labor to local governments, to schools, churches, parks and non-profit organizations. That contribution to the community is now gone, but the senator is on board for his next chapter, turning the despair of drug addicts into people who have a hopeful, drug-free future.
Carter County Mayor Patty Woodby is also in attendance. She even suggested an expansion of the facility’s contribution to the inmates it would serve. Woodby is hard at work on a plan to turn the county-owned Workforce Development Complex in Stoney Creek into a vocational technical training center for the region. She suggested that inmates at the drug treatment facility could be allowed to take classes at the technical education center, giving them the skills and knowledge they would need to start their lives anew on a lucrative new path and fulfilling. Crowe said that in addition to teaching new skills, the center could also allow inmates to get their GEDs, learn how to learn basics like learning to live on a budget and maybe even get a driver’s license.
While Senator Crowe, Rep. Hicks, Judge Street and Mayor Woodby are all in the vicinity of the former labor camp, its potential to transform drug problems in other parts of the region has also been realized. . Sullivan County Mayor Richard Venable said Judge Street, Judge Rice and Judge Goodwin spoke about plans for the drug treatment facility at a meeting of the Sullivan County Commission. Venable said the impression of the impact the plan would have on Sullivan County’s drug treatment efforts was reinforced by Judge Goodwin of the 2nd Judicial District. “Some commissioners have suggested that some of the drug settlement money for Sullivan County be kept for things Judge Goodwin might need. Judge Goodwin told them “no, put it all in Carter County facilities. We need it.”
Woodby said if the plan was approved by the state, the building would be transferred from the Department of Corrections to the Department of General Services.
Crowe and Woodby said the facility is currently in very good condition. The prison has a nearly new roof, and Crowe said the sewage treatment facility is in excellent condition, producing water clean enough to swim in, he said. He and Woodby said the sewage treatment facility could be expanded for use by the communities of Roan Mountain and Hampton.