Carter County Jail retains TCI certification

By Abby Morris
Star Staff
amorris@starhq.com

   During a meeting held in Nashville Thursday between Tennessee Corrections Institute Board of Control representatives and local government officals, TCI concluded that the Carter County Jail will keep its state certification.
   According to Wanda Johnson with the TCI, the board allowed the jail to keep its certification but asked that the facility be regularly monitored to make sure the Jail Task Force is working to relieve overcrowding.
   At a Tuesday meeting of the Jail Task Force, CCSD Deputy Chief James Parrish told members that jail officials were going to Nashville yesterday to meet with the board because the jail's certification was brought under review.
   TCI Detention Facility Specialist Melody Gregory inspected the jail in September 2003 and gave approval for renewal of certification in spite of problems at the facility.
   In August 2003, the TCI issued a letter to Carter County Sheriff John Henson giving local officials one month to fix deficiencies found at the facility during the August inspection.
   "The inspection revealed that this facility does not meet all applicable minimum standards," a letter from C. David Hensley, executive director of the TCI, said. In his letter, Hensley advised Henson that the facility would be re-inspected in September and the final report would be given to the Board of Control.
   The failed August inspection cited problems with the facility such as severe overcrowding, holes in the ceiling, presence of contraband, poor lighting, inadequate plumbing, mold and mildew, broken windows, exposed wiring and a leaky roof.
   When Gregory re-inspected the jail in September, the facility scored a passing grade even though Gregory noted in her report that the jail still suffers from overcrowding, among other deficiencies.
   "Currently with the overpopulation some deficiencies are constantly under repair but (the) facility is logging and attempting to comply," Gregory said in her inspection report. "An approved plan is in place and assessment from Barge Waggoner, Sumner and Cannon is scheduled to be complete (in) December 2003. Facility is currently working to decrease inmate population."
   Gregory referred to a needs assessment study recommended by the Jail Task Force to the full Carter County Commission that was approved in July 2003. The firm is now in the fourth phase of the study.
   BWS&C completed the third phase of the study in December and presented it to the Jail Task Force. The firm concluded that, in order to keep up with the growth rate, in 20 years the county will need a facility that can hold approximately 500 inmates.
   According to Parrish, jail officials took the needs assessment study with them to the TCI Board of Control meeting on Thursday. Officials planned to show the board how the county is working to correct problems at the jail.
   The Jail Task Force requested on Tuesday evening that County Mayor Dale Fair ask BWS&C representatives to look at the cost and feasibility of building a 377-bed facility as a step toward the 500-bed facility the county will eventually need.
   Carter County Sheriff John Henson could not be reached for comment on Thursday due to being in Nashville for the meeting.
   Former inmates have filed two lawsuits against Carter County citing "inhumane" conditions at the jail. Attorneys representing the plaintiffs filed a motion in federal court earlier this month to join the two lawsuits, while the attorney representing the county in the two cases has not yet filed a response to either complaint.
   The first lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Greeneville on Nov. 2, 2003, and the second was filed in the same court on Dec. 3, 2003. Both lawsuits are seeking class-action status.