Johnson Co. Jail to open soon

By Abby Morris
Star Staff
amorris@starhq.com

   MOUNTAIN CITY -- Johnson County Sheriff's Department employees will move to the new jail here this week, and the department will transfer inmates to the facility after the first of the year, according to Sheriff Roger Gentry.
   The Johnson County 911 Communications Center has already begun dispatching from the new building.
   The new structure, which cost the county "a little less than $5 million", according to Gentry, was built because the Tennessee Corrections Institute revoked the jail's certification due to overcrowding and the poor condition of the old facility. "Our old jail was not certifiable," Gentry said. "We basically had no choice but to build a new one."
   On Friday, Gentry gave Star reporters a tour of the new state-of-the-art facility. "We're really proud of it," he said. Gentry described how technology will allow "no contact visitation" between inmates and visitors, a method commonly used in metropolitan prisons.
   When guests come to the jail to visit an inmate, they will go into the visitation room, pick up a telephone and watch the person they are visiting appear on a television screen. Televisions in both the visitation room and the cells where they are connected are equipped with cameras that allow the inmate and visitor to see each other and speak by telephone. "It's no contact visitation and that keeps your contraband out," Gentry said.
   Inmates will also experience an inkless "live scan" fingerprinting machine when they are booked into the jail. "It scans their fingers ... no more ink," he said.
   The new jail will hold 114 inmates. Currently, it averages between 55 and 60 inmates, according to Gentry, though it is only built to hold 37. "I've been up to 70, but that has been the highest," he said.
   The facility will accommodate 22 female inmates, 36 minimum security male inmates, 22 medium security male inmates, 22 maximum security inmates and two single-bunk cells which can be used for extreme maximum security inmates or inmates who are under suicide watch.
   When the jail was designed, it was built as a "pod style" structure, according to Gentry. A single control room overlooks the entire facility. Jail personnel, through the use of windows in the control room, can physically see into every inmate area in the detention facility.
   Video surveillance increases safety because personnel will be able not only to observe the inmates but also monitor the outside of the building, according to Gentry.
   Inmate cells and holding areas are also equipped with a speaker communication system. "Every cell has a speaker in it and if an inmate needs something, they can get on the speaker and call the control room, or if we need them to come out of the cell we can call them on the speaker," Gentry said.
   Due to the fact that it is so easy for personnel to physically observe every inmate area, Gentry said he will be able to run the jail with five or six guards on duty at a time. "I've got to have two in the control room at all times, and I've got to have a roving guard," he said, adding that two jailers will work in the booking area.
   Built on a hill overlooking Mountain City, the jail is designed to allow expansions if they are needed. "It will be very easy to expand in the future," Gentry said.
   Gentry also stated his department is working with Carter County Jail officials to temporarily house some of their inmates to ease overcrowding in that facility. "We could handle 30 to 40 inmates from there," he said.