Jail study inches ahead
Stephanie Myers News-Herald.net
The problem of inmate overcrowding has been brought back into the spotlight after winter weather, the election and other events slowed talks between the jail study committee and county officials.

The Loudon County Corrections Partnership met Wednesday at the Loudon County Justice Center for the first time in months, with the only business conducted to schedule a public hearing for late next month.

The public meeting will be held at 6:30 p.m. July 31 at the Loudon County Courthouse Annex, following a recap presentation with the new Loudon County commissioners to bring them up to speed on the jail study. The public will be able to make comments after Moseley Architects, the firm hired to conduct the study, presents options for addressing overcrowding at the jail.

General Sessions Court Judge Rex Dale, who serves as chairman of the committee, said the ball will be in county commission’s court after the July public meeting.

“The architects are going to do their presentation to the general public and the general public will be able to ask questions and things like that,” Dale said. “If county commission — at that point in time after the public meeting when they’ve heard the public responses we’ll take it back in front of them for another workshop ... just to see if they have any additional questions to ask, and then they’ll vote on what they’re recommending at that point in time.”

Dale said the committee, which has been meeting for about 1 1/2 years to consider the potential construction of a new facility and short-term measures to relieve the bulging inmate population, can now meet on an as-needed basis. The committee was required to meet monthly until county commission approved the needs assessment.

The needs assessment for the jail will be posted on the county’s website, Dale said.

“And so now we’re kind of stepping back in just to make sure that this doesn’t just fall away — that it gets presented to the public, which is a requirement, and then the county commission so that they can make their determinations,” Dale said.

Committee members said they were pleased with the direction of addressing overcrowding at the local jail. Dale said commission must “move quick” on a decision, but one main concern is funding.

“We’ve got several issues that              we’re dealing with, and this is probably going to be the biggest, high dollar issue that we’re going to have to address in the near future,” Commissioner Steve Harrelson, who also sits on the jail committee, said.

Dale said if the Loudon County Jail continues to remain overcrowded, the local facility could be shut down and the county would then have to pay surrounding counties to house inmates.

“You talk about an expense then, and it becomes triple, maybe even quadruple the expense of what we’ve got here,” Dale said, adding that structural issues and air conditioning maintenance with the current facility also pose fiscal concerns.

Outgoing Commissioner Bob Franke posed to the committee upcoming state legislation that decreases space requirements per inmate from 100 square feet to 80 square feet.

“So that might gain us a little bit as far as capacity of numbers depending on what size they build,” Franke said. “The new commission is going to be the ones that are going to have to handle it. I don’t know. I guess it will be up to them to decide an exact location and how big and all that sort of thing.”

“At the time we did the needs assessment it was 100 square foot,” Dale said. “In order to grandfather something in it’s like, do you have to have it completed at that time or is it going to be a building process so that creates kind of a wrinkle.

“You’re talking about so many different options as to what it includes too,” he added. “The best of all worlds is to have all of the entire court systems within the same building with the sheriff and the inmates so that we don’t have transportation issues. ... Change is inevitable in everything that we go with. If someone is staying in the same position as everything else changes around them they are falling behind.”