Plans prevent denial of certification

Future expansion helps jail pass inspection
Dec. 21, 2012 @ 12:26 AM

The Sevier County Jail is overcrowded to the point would not have qualified for certification if officials hadn’t already approved plans to expand the minimum security facility on Old Knoxville Highway.

The Tennessee Corrections Institute inspected the jail twice this year, first on Oct. 5 and again Nov. 27. In both cases, population at the jail far exceeded its certified capacity of 214 inmates. On Oct. 5, the population was 307. On Nov. 27, it was 294, which records indicate was the average population for the year.

The inspector found some issues that weren’t directly tied in to overcrowding on the first inspection, and most of those had been addressed before the re-inspection. However, even after the re-inspection executive director Beth Ashe wrote “The inspection revealed this facility does not meet all applicable minimum standards.

“However, the assigned detention facility specialist is recommending that your county corrections partnership’s formal plan of action be submitted and improved by the TCI.”

That plan, presented to the TCI in Nashville earlier this month, calls for the final planned expansion of the minimum security wing of the jail. County Commission approved bond funding to cover the estimated $4 million cost last month.

The county will add 128 beds to the minimum security wing, and Sheriff Ron Seals said he hopes they will be able to use them to house inmates who had been held at the old jail.

“That should take some of the population at the old jail,” he said.

Overcrowding has not been an issue at the minimum security wing, but its average population of 221 inmates was near its certified capacity of 228.

Moving inmates from the old jail could mean a change in the parameters they use in deciding which prisoners come to the new facility, the sheriff said. They will look first at bringing over inmates who are awaiting trial, he said.

The inspection at the minimum security wing also took place on Oct. 5, but it didn’t require a re-inspection. “You are to be congratulated for attaining this degree of professionalism in your organization,” Ashe wrote in her letter accompanying the inspection report for that facility.

jfarrell@themountainpress.com