Task Force discusses short-term solutions for jail overcrowding

By Abby Morris
Star Staff
amorris@starhq.com

   With a hearing date in a lawsuit filed in federal court against the County over conditions at the Carter County Jail approaching, members of the Carter County Jail Task Force met Friday afternoon and discussed some possible short-term solutions to overcrowding problems at the facility.
   Among the temporary solutions discussed was the leasing or purchasing of portable facilities which could house up to 60 inmates, which, added to the 91 certified beds in the current facility, would give the jail certification to house 151 inmates.
   The portable housing facilities meet or exceed TCI standards for inmate housing and are prefabricated and require little site preparation to install and set up. Leasing the portable facilities would cost the County approximately $185,000 a year with a one-time delivery and set-up fee of just under $100,000. Purchasing the unit would cost approximately $600,000 with the delivery and set-up fee included.
   When asked about the possibility of purchasing the units and then selling them after a new facility was constructed, County Finance Director Jason Cody stated that he felt there was a potential for selling the buildings if they are purchased but he did not know how much money could be recovered from a sale.
   Another option discussed would be the construction of a dormitory style housing building adjacent to the current jail facility which could house up to 64 inmates and then, after the construction of a new jail facility at some point in the future, the building could be converted for another use with the new jail.
   One downside to the construction of a temporary inmate dormitory which could later be converted for another use is that based on the time it would take to draw up the plans, have the plans approved by state officials, bid out the contracts and then complete construction, it could be up to a full year before an interim building would be ready to house inmates. One of the upsides to constructing such a building, according to Cody, would be that the money spent to construct the building would not be lost once the housing inmates was ceased as would be the case if the County leased portable units.
   A third option discussed to help decrease overcrowding would be a renovation of the current jail facility which could possible bring the TCI rating of the facility up to 112 inmates from the current total of 91.
   According to County Mayor Dale Fair, Knoxville attorney John Duffy, who is representing the County in the lawsuit citing "inhumane" conditions at the jail, met with members of the Jail Task Force in February and recommended that the Task Force try to come up with a short-term solution which would keep the jail operating at less than 150 percent capacity. A hearing in the lawsuit has been scheduled for April 26, at which time the judge will hear a motion filed by the plaintiffs asking for a preliminary injunction against Carter County.
   The renovation of the current facility alone would not bring the jail below the 150 percent capacity mark but would have to be combined with either the portables or an interim building.
   After much discussion of all the options presented to them, Task Force members decided to meet again on March 23 at 3 p.m. to make a decision after they had had more time to think over the options.