Jail study given go-ahead
By Abby Morris

Star Staff
amorris@starhq.com
A study to assess the needs of Carter County in reference to the current correctional facility was given the go ahead Monday morning by the County Commission with the allocation more than $20,000 for the cost of the project.
At the Commission's meeting, members of the governing body designated $23, 500 to go to the costs of having the needs assessment study done to determine that will take into account not only the current needs of the county but will look ahead 20 years and estimate the county's needs at that time based on population and population growth numbers in the county.
The Jail Task Force, which is a special committee that the Commission created to deal with the overcrowding situation currently faced at the Carter County Jail as well as the state of the facility, decided in April to request a needs assessment.
The Task Force sent out letters to seven architectural firms which specialize in designing and constructing correctional facilities as well as assessing the needs of a community. Of those seven firms, five responded with proposals. At the Task Force's June meeting, members unanimously selected a proposal submitted by a firm named Barge, Waggoner, Sumner and Cannon, Inc., (BWSC) which has a local office in Blountville. BWSC quoted a price range from $5,000-25,000 to complete a needs assessment study for the county.
Earlier this month, members of the Task Force interviewed representatives from BWSC and have decided to use that firm for the study if funding is approved by the County Commission.
The study is designed to evaluate the situation and then determine if the best recourse would be to renovate and build onto the existing jail facility or to build a completely new facility.
In order for the project to continue, the commission had to approve the funding for the study.
According to Carter County Sheriff John Henson, overcrowding at the jail is a serious problem and one that needs to be addressed soon. "The jail overcrowding is a problem and it's getting worse. It's not going to get any better," he said. "The jail is busting at the seams right now. The jail is averaging over 200 people a day and that's way over the limit." The current facility is certified to hold 91 inmates.
Henson stated that if something is not done about the situation soon, the Tennessee Department of Corrections may decertify the jail facility. Decertification would mean that not only would the county have to build a new jail facility to comply with regulations, the county would also have to pay for inmates to be housed at other correctional facilities while the new structure is being built.
In addition to the overcrowding problem, the current jail facility is also in poor condition. "The jail is just worn out. Everything in it is falling apart," Henson said. "You're spending more out on the building right now than what payments would be on a new jail."
In April, Terry Hazard, from the County Technical Assistance Service, spoke to members of the Task Force about the problems with the way the current jail is designed. "I would stake a bet that whoever designed it was not a jail architect," he said at the Task Force's April meeting, adding that visibility in the jail is extremely limited and that jailers have to enter a cell block to investigate problems. "It's dangerous for the jail staff. The jailers are doing a heck of a job with what they have to work with."
Overcrowding is a problem that is currently being faced throughout the state of Tennessee and across the nation. Currently, 23 of Tennessee's 95 counties have seen their jail facilities de-certified by the state. Carter County has retained its certification for the current jail facility.
In 2002, more than 21,000 people in Tennessee were incarcerated in detention facilities. That number was up from just under 12,000 in 1992.
Recently, the number of inmates being held in detention facilities across the nation topped 2 million, according to information from the Justice Department. The incarceration rate, counting state and federal prisoners sentenced to more than one year in prison was 474 for every 100,000 U.S. residents, according the Justice Department's study that was done in mid-2002.