Blount Co. faces hurdles enacting Amelia's Law

Its been nine days since Amelia's Law went into effect. The law is meant to crack down on repeat offenders convicted of drug and alcohol offenses. But already, authorities say they're having a hard time enforcing it. 7-9-14

(WBIR-Blount County) It's been nine days since new statewide laws went into effect and already 10News has learned at least one of them is not being enforced; officials in Blount County said they cannot enact Amelia's Law since the probation department does not have the technology, funding, or resources.

Amelia's Law passed in March and went into effect July 1st, allowing judges to order offenders to wear a drug or alcohol monitoring device. Amelia Keown's family crusaded to get the law passed after the a man out on parol, high on drugs, crashed into the 16-year-old, killing her. The driver, who died, had a lengthy criminal history.

Wednesday, Joni Seratt, the Director of the Blount County Probation Department, said the department is moving quickly but cannot enforce the law since it does not have the transdermal monitoring devices.

"We've been researching for awhile, just to find out so we can enact the law properly, and we just don't have the capabilities right now to do that, and we are still actively exploring it to comply with this law," said Seratt.

Seratt said there are two devices that can monitor alcohol every 30 minutes, but it takes at least 24 hours to get a report of an alcohol incident. She said there is a patch offenders could wear to monitor drug use, but the department would have to send it out and wait for a couple of days to get the results.

Amelia's Law was designed to detect drug and alcohol use swiftly, to protect to the public.

"There are units with GPS, but it does not monitor for alcohol," said Seratt. "So there are the three different kinds of devices, for alcohol, drugs, and GPS."

Seratt said the alcohol monitoring devices range from $1,300 to $2,400, plus an additional $7 to $10 per day to monitor the offender for an average six to 12 month sentence.

The law was designed for the offender to pay for the cost of the devices, however General Session Court Presiding Judge William Brewer said that would not be practical, since most probationers are lower income and could not afford to assume the costs

"If they were ordered to do a transdermal device and they can't do it, you know, I don't know if we would have to assume the cost or where that money would actually come from, or if they would have to go back to jail. And then you know, you've got a jail overcrowding issue," said Seratt.

Seratt said staffing will be another hurdle, since there are 10 people in the department tasked with supervising 1,850 probationers.

"I would say 80% of them would be impacted by Amelia's Law. That's a huge number from our office that would be effected by that," said Seratt. "I would definitely need to have more manpower to actively supervise these people as well , so there's a lot of different factors."

10News reached out to Amanda Moore, who helped push for Amelia's Law. She sent an emailed response to the delaying of enacting the law.

"If we are concerned with the prisoners/parolees financial status, and don't bother to properly monitor them in the first place, why even bother to have them on probation/parole? If nothing is going to be done, then what's the point? If they don't want to be in jail, if they deserve to be free and on the streets after they have proved they could be a danger to society, then this should be part of the price they pay. I do not understand not making safety a priority."

Seratt reassured her department is working quickly to get the law enacted in Blount County.

"It can't just happen overnight. There are budgets to consider that we would have to go forth with. We have to go through our purchasing department especially on things we contract out," said Seratt. "We have great compassion from the family, and we understand where they're coming from. And we have sympathy for them, but we are just trying to figure it out right now. "


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