Jail recertified despite overcrowding problems

Photo by Abby Morris
Melody Gregory, a detention facility specialist with the Tennessee Corrections Institute (TCI), met with members of the Jail Task Force Tuesday night. The Carter County JailÕs TCI certification has been extended for another year despite overcrowding at the jail.

By Abby Morris
Star Staff
A detention facility specialist with the Tennessee Corrections Institute reported to members of the Carter County Jail Task Force at a meeting Tuesday night that she will recommend TCI certification of the jail be extended for another year, despite continuing problems at the facility such as extreme overcrowding, citing that progress had been made in bringing the facility into compliance with TCI standards.
Melody Gregory has been doing TCI inspections of the Carter County Jail since 1999, and she reported to members of the task force that overcrowding has been a continuing problem at the facility. She said records indicated that it had been a problem in the past as well. Overcrowding has gotten worse since last year's jail inspection, Gregory said. "Over the weekend there were 246 inmates in a 91 capacity jail. That's sad," she said.
Gregory stated that County Mayor Dale Fair and Carter County Sheriff John Henson and his staff have made progress in getting the overcrowding problem, as well as other issues preventing the jail from complying with TCI standards, solved. "I will say that Mr. Fair has put forth a wonderful effort, more of an effort than has been put forth since I have been here," Gregory said. "Sheriff Henson has worked his employees to death trying to comply with these standards and improve the situation. His employees and him have went above and beyond the call of duty."
It was the efforts of Fair, Henson and the Carter County Sheriff's Department to finding a permanent solution to the problem that convinced Gregory to recommend the jail be certified another year, she said.
Currently, the architectural firm Barge, Waggoner, Sumner and Cannon, Inc. is completing a needs assessment study of the facility. The firm has a local office in Blountville. The county commission appropriated $23,500 in July for the study, which will determine the best course of action to deal with not only overcrowding but also structural deterioration.
Representatives from BWSC attended the meeting and reported that the four-part study is nearly at the midpoint of completion, and they anticipate being able to report the full findings of the study to the task force at its November meeting.
Gregory advised members of the task force that, while the study is going on, members need to find ways to temporarily alleviate overcrowding at the jail, which is at 2 1/2 times its certified capacity. She reported to members that the overcrowding situation increases the county's liability for injuries of inmates or an assault of a jail employee by an inmate.
"The only thing I ask is, if at all possible, to look into some temporary housing," Gregory said. She suggested that the task force consider using other buildings which the county owns to temporarily house inmates serving short sentences, or talk to judges to see if some minor misdemeanor sentences could be changed to community service instead of jail time.
Fair said he is researching a company that rents temporary inmate storage facilities which are prefabricated and would be set up on county property. He stated that he did not have many details on the program yet, but that he was continuing to look into it.
"Anything you use (to house inmates) that is temporary has to comply with the standards," Gregory advised Fair.
Jason Cody, county finance director, told Gregory he has been working with the jail staff and is considering returning state inmates currently housed at the Carter County Jail to the state's custody in order to alleviate some of the overcrowding. He also reported that the county is considering checking with other area detention facilities to see if they have space available and, if so, if they would be willing to enter a contract to temporarily house some of the inmates in order to help ease crowding until a permanent solution can be reached.