Task Force to look at new site for jail

  By Abby Morris-Frye

  Members of the Jail Task Force met with members of the Carter County Commission Thursday night to discuss issues surrounding the building of a new jail for the county. They decided to pursue a new location for the facility.
  The Jail Task Force was formed as a committee of the County Commission in December 2002. In July 2003, the Task Force hired the firm of Barge, Waggoner, Sumner and Cannon to complete a needs assessment study on the jail, focusing on the current facility, the projected growth over the next 20 years and if the current facility could be modified or expanded to meet those needs.
  When the study was completed in June of this year, the Task Force was looking at the need for a 377-bed facility in 10 years and then in 20 years having to have the facility expanded to house 500 inmates. The current jail facility was certified by the Tennessee Corrections Institute -- which oversees and certifies local jails within the state -- as being able to house 91 inmates. For several years overcrowding has been a problem at the facility, which has housed as many as 240 inmates at one time. On the day of its most recent inspection by the TCI, Dec. 9, the jail housed 185 inmates.
  Currently, with a temporary solution to the overcrowding in progress, the Jail Task Force is looking at the long term solution. While discussing the construction of a new jail facility, members of the Task Force reached a standstill. That is why Thursday night's workshop was called.
  "We're at a decision point in this process and we can't go either direction without some direction from the full commission," said Task Force member Jeff Treadway. "We need direction as the Jail Task Force because we are on some timelines with the private settlement agreement the county signed."
  The question that the Task Force posed to members of the Commission was, in planning for the new jail, should the Task Force consider attempting to have the new facility constructed on the site of the current facility, or should the Task Force find another location for the new jail.
  Members of the Commission and the Task Force discussed the positives and the negatives of both staying on site and moving to a new site.
  If the Task Force were to decide to stay on the existing site, more property would have to be purchased or acquired, including at least a portion of the city ball park located behind the current jail's impound lot. Also, the current facility is built in a flood plain and over the years, rising water has done damage to the current facility. However, if the new jail were to be built on the same site, the county could save money on the cost of transporting inmates to and from court appearances.
  If the jail were to be moved to a new site, the county could use property already owned by the county or acquire new land to build the facility, which could potentially be purchased cheaper than the price that could be paid to purchase property around the current facility which has already been developed.
  A new site would also leave room for expansion whereas growth would be inhibited on the existing jail site, but attempting to locate a jail in a new location could face opposition by surrounding property owners.
  The fact that the current jail is located in a flood plain was a deciding factor for many of the commissioners.
  "We know there are problems there (with the current jail property) and we know what has happened to this building," said Commissioner Jim Whaley, who mentioned the Flood of 1998, which left more than four feet of water in the impound lot at the jail and flooded the main level of the facility. The building has also endured structural damage over the years due to floods. Whaley stated that he was in favor of moving to a new site.
  Attempting to locate a new facility on the current site would also make the property cramped and not allow for expansion. "By staying, we have an engineering nightmare by trying to fit this thing into that spot and having to tear down and build new," said Commissioner Al Meehan.
  Commissioner Jack Buckles asked his fellow commissioners to look toward the future before making their decisions. "How old is Cloudland Elementary? Four or five years? The gym is too small to play ball in. Hampton Elementary was overcrowded the day it opened," Buckles said. "Let's not build a jail that will be full in five years."
  Following the discussion all of the commissioners present except for one stated that they were in favor of moving the jail to another location. The only one who disagreed was Commissioner John Lewis. "My content has always been that we don't need a new jail. My opinion is that if these people (inmates) want to live like a bunch of pigs then let them," Lewis said. "I think our first mistake was passing that lawsuit (settlement). I don't think the taxpayers in this county can afford a new jail."