County jail will receive some needed repairs

By Megan R. Harrell
Star Staff

   The Carter County Law Enforcement Committee met Wednesday evening to review proposals for the Carter County Jail. Members of the committee agreed that the jail facility is in need of a considerable amount of structural attention.
   The Facilities Committee went on a tour of the jail early in December and pinpointed several areas of concern. Beeson, Lusk & Street, Inc. accompanied the committee on its tour and drew up an estimated repairs cost list for the County Executive's review.
   The installation of new sprinkler heads, automatic toilets, floor drains, and needed repairs on the jail's existing roof were estimated at $201,000. The county, however, has only $37,000 available in its budget for repairs at the jail.
   Members of the Law Enforcement Committee voted to prioritize the installation of the new locks and alarm systems, and the roof repairs. The lock system is estimated to cost about $20,000, while the alarm system and roof repairs each cost under $10,000. The funds in the county budget should cover the costs of these repairs.
   Chief Deputy James Parrish presented part of a staff study to members of the Law Enforcement Committee on the need for additional jail space. He stated that the Carter County jail is operating 70 inmates over its capacity. The county is equipped to house only 25 state inmates and currently has 46 in its facility. "We've got to get something started over there or we are eventually going to run into a serious problem," Sheriff John Henson said.
   An estimated 215 beds are needed at the jail and there are a variety of ways of getting them. Renovating the courtrooms into holding facilities, and building a separate court facility a part from the jail has been considered. Parrish is looking into the costs of using a modular unit for additional space.
   Parrish would like to see the county keep its high amount of state inmates so it can continue to get state funding for them. The additional inmates could bring an extra $250,000 to the county jail, and Parrish believes these funds would help to cover some of the costs of a new addition. "If we can keep right at 45 state inmates, with what year to year is budgeted on state inmates, we could bring in quite a bit more money," Parrish said. "If we manage this correctly a big burden of the cost would be on the state because of its inmates."
   Although immediate structural changes would be ideal, the county may have to wait until 2003 until it sees any ground broken at the jail. "The sheriff is crowded and we need to do something about it, but that does not mean we have to be in a big hurry," said County Executive Truman Clark. "There are going to be a lot of other things to consider as well."
   The state will allow the county jail to operate over capacity as long as it is able to show progress toward making changes. The Law Enforcement Committee suggested developing a separate account to collect additional funds the county is receiving for housing state inmates. The extra money then would be used to begin the construction of a jail addition.
   The Carter County Jail has more than just structural needs. Dr. Daniel Earl has announced his retirement from his position as jail physician. Although Earl will stay at the jail until a replacement is found, the county is seeking any physician who is willing to do the job.
   The contract is available for review for interested parties, and negotiations are open. Dr. Earl received approximately $2,250 a month for his services at the jail.