New Jail, Part 1
Where We Are

For nearly two years, county officials have been discussing and debating the need for more jail space. An engineering firm was even hired to do a feasibility study and provide options for expanded jail capacity. Three options were developed with input from numerous county officials involved in the public safety and judicial systems.

Option 1 came in at more than 47 million dollars, option 2 came in at more than 24 million dollars and option 3 came in at just over 44 million dollars. If any one of these three options were ever approved it would require a massive property tax increase to pay for it. Surprisingly, none of the options included just adding additional bed space to the current jail.

For me, the first question that must be asked and answered is, do we have a problem with our current jail? According to some officials the answer is yes, overcrowding. So often in government, the first step in accomplishing a goal is to establish the premise that there is a problem. But what are the facts?

According to local officials the over crowding problem is so severe that the county jail is at great risk of being "decertified" by the Tennessee Corrections Institute (TCI). This is the state organization charged with monitoring Tennessee jails to see that they meet minimum requirements set forth in state law. TCI has the authority to decertify a jail for reasons they deem do not meet requirements. The most common threat for decertification is jail over crowding.

According to some, decertification of a jail could mean loss of or higher insurance premiums and the risk of inmate lawsuits against the county or in the worst cases, closure of the jail. However, as of the end of December, there were 9 jails that had been decertified across the state yet all were still up and running.

Another problem that always comes with government projects is the temptation for overkill. For instance, once it was decided the jail had an over crowding problem it was then determined that the court rooms, jail security and all other offices associated with the current jail/Justice Center were inadequate too and in need of upgrades. Thus what started out with a possible shortage of a few beds in the jail has turned into a new 47 million dollar Justice Center among other options.

As mentioned above, Option 1 would be a new facility on a new site that would include a new 278 bed jail, new sheriff's law enforcement facility and a three story court facility. Cost $47,378,562.00

Option 2 would be a new 278 bed jail, sally port and recreational yard adjacent to the existing Justice Center. Cost $24,082,859.00.

Option 3 would be a new 278 bed jail, 3 story court facility adjacent to the existing Justice Center and renovations to the Justice Center. Cost $44,160,841.00.

This is some of the background on how we got where we are in the process as of now. There's a lot more information relevant to the need for more jail space.

I'm just one member of the commission but it's hard to see any possibility where a majority of the commission will support a large property tax increase for a whole new justice center complex.

Over the next few days, I will attempt to provide you with more information to help everyone be better informed on the process. We'll discuss over crowding, decertification and possible alternatives to solve the problem without burdening tax payers.