Jail panel hears options
Jeremy Nash News-Herald.net
Loudon County Corrections Partnership committee members met Wednesday at the Justice Center to continue working toward resolving the county’s growing need for added jail and courtroom space.

In the first meeting since July 2014 when Moseley Architects presented its needs assessment report for the current facilities and options for addressing overcrowding, members heard remarks from Tennessee Corrections Institute Detention Facilities Specialist Bob Bass and University of Tennessee County Technical Assistant Service Jail Management Consultant Jim Hart. The committee also took a tour around the Justice Center premises to help members better understand the facility’s current state.

The committee attempted to meet formally earlier this month but failed to have a quorum. Wednesday’s meeting was full.

“One of the things I did notice in that meeting (with Moseley) was that core price, that’s called sticker shock, but they have to do that,” Bass said. “When they start talking about an operation in putting a facility up, it gives you some kind of base talk to look at. The end of the day, let’s not forget that what I preached in the original meeting I had with you is this, and I’m going to restate that. We don’t let architects tell us what they’re going to build.”

Bass urged members to consider a facility that will not only address the present, but also the future, with “bells and whistles.”

“Some people might consider video visitation a little fancy, but you know what? It relates directly to that staff,” Bass said. “Now I don’t have to hire that extra staff and move inmates in and out of that visitation booth. So, (it’s) a little more expensive up front, but in the long run it could save us money.”

Moseley Architects outlined three options to address inmate overcrowding during an earlier meeting in November 2013. One possibility includes building a $47.3 million facility to hold all law enforcement and court operations, along with a 278-bed jail that could hold a capacity of 400 inmates. Another option is constructing just a jail for $24 million. The third option includes adding a new jail and courtroom space for $44 million and leaving the Sheriff’s Office at its current location at the Justice Center.

Chairman Russell Johnson asked Bass for his opinion on the three options that were on the table. Members voted in County Commissioner Leo Bradshaw as vice chairman of the jail committee and Johnson as chairman. General Sessions Judge Rex Dale officially stepped down as chairman due to his judicial responsibilities, but he will still serve on the committee.

Bass said expansion of the current facility is not likely, based on the property’s configuration. Most facilities open for expansion have room for growth already in place when they’re first designed, he said.

“What happens to us sometimes, you take a facility like this, somewhat antiquated, now it’s a real challenge for the architects to integrate that expansion,” Bass said. “Again, some of the things I just talked about, would the property work and what kind of shape the physical plant’s in, and it can become costly. Sometimes it’s better to walk away and find another use for that.”

Hart agreed with Bass, and said the county should look for ways to reduce operational and manpower costs anyway it can instead of increasing costs.

“What Bob talked about is some facilities will design in sort of phases, design a facility that phase one may be the jail,” Hart said. “Phase two may a five-year plan, 10-year plan where courts are added into it. Phase three might be a 15-year plan where there’s an opportunity to expand that jail out to even further, should that need to be (done). But it’s laid out in a manner — those phases — it’s laid out in a manner where it makes sense where it reduces those operational costs.”

Bass said the facility’s infrastructure could prove to be troublesome if the county decides to expand or renovate the Justice Center.

“Is the present kitchen going to be large enough to support an additional 100 beds or 200 beds? Well I can tell you right now, no, and I bet everybody in this room could agree with that,” Bass said. “I believe the sheriff could agree with that. Is the laundry going to be big enough? No.”

Bass said he liked the idea of using the current Justice Center as a building dedicated to the Sheriff’s Office, and using the jail for storage space and training.

“You would have a storage of county records, and every county I go to that seems to be an issue, ‘Where would we keep old county records? We’ve only got one place to do that’,” Bass said. “What a better place to move it than in the jail? ... You would have an opportunity for training, which is always a big issue.

“This is a great training room,” he added. “... I mean I can just give you a list ... that would go down to my leg of (the) benefits of that, but remember this: It’s going to be your final decision.”

Hart said he believes the county is nearly at a point where a decision needs to be made.

“Once you get the needs assessment back, you get to a point where you are right now, you start having to weigh all the different options that certainly the company Moseley put out in their needs assessment, what your needs are, what some of the options are, such as electronic monitoring or community corrections kind of programs,” he said. “What are some of those options? What can we do to sort of counter this challenge that we’re faced with? And then you get to a point where the committee just needs to make a decision and move forward.”

Bass said he was impressed with the committee’s willingness to take its time and come up with the right decision.

“I appreciate the professionalism that you’re doing and the steps you’re taking, and you’re not rushing into anything,” he said. “You’re being good stewards to taxpayers’ money. You’re keeping the public informed. Continue down that path. Let’s make good sound judgments.”

In addition to hearing from Bass and Hart, the committee toured around the current facility and, at the request by Johnson, listened to East Tennessee Human Resources Agency Misdemeanor Probation Service Director Judy Brewer talk about inmate monitoring.

“The purpose for our program, it was developed to help these people (be) more productive in the community,” Brewer said. “A lot of the clients we have, I’m going to estimate at probably around 65 percent of our caseload is alcohol and drug related. “

The committee is scheduled to meet again at noon Feb. 18 in the Justice Center training room.