The problem of overcrowding at the Loudon county jail is bad and is likely to get worse.
The Loudon County Corrections Partnership, also known as the jail study committee, on Wednesday heard a report on current conditions at the jail, which is facing decertification for crowding and other problems.
Head jailer Lt. Jake Keener told the committee the jail, certified for 95 prisoners, is currently housing a total of 152 prisoners including 113 men and 39 women. He said five female prisoners are currently being housed in a hallway.
"We are officially overcrowded in all cell blocks." Keener said.
He said a Tennessee Corrections Institute inspection March 8 found a number of violations including overcrowding per square foot, not enough sinks or toilets and many in need of repair.
The inspectors said they cannot recommend the jail for recertification. Another inspection will be performed in May, he said.
"We're going to paint and fix a few things but I can't do anything about the overcrowding," Keener said.
This isn't necessarily the busiest time of the year, Keener said. As the summer approaches, the prison population typically increases, he said.
Sheriff Tim Guider said it was hard to maintain the facility under such conditions. He said he will travel to Nashville with County Mayor Buddy Bradshaw in June to ask for a continued extension on the decertification.
Several plans for an expansion to 278 beds are under consideration at a cost of $16 million to $19 million. Mayor Bradshaw has said previously any figure approaching the $20 million range would require a tax increase and will be a hard sell to county commission.
General Sessions Judge Rex Dale, a member of the committee, said he was trying to help the overcrowding through being lenient on certain offenders such as 'no-shows."
Mayor Bradshaw said he would prefer the county does not get a reputation for being lenient on offenders.
TCI detention facilities manager Bob Bass was at the meeting. He said the women being housed in the hallway were not authorized. He also said the county needs to deal with the problem sooner rather than later.
"Procrastination comes with a price tag," he said.
Bass also said that it was necessary to take a long-term approach to solving the problems.
"Do it right the first time or when you come back in 10 years you will pay the price," he said.
Jay Henderline, with Michael Brady Architects, is working on design proposals for the new jail. He said the project could be completed in stages but the designs are looking at capacity needs about 20 years out.
Committee members, which include several county commissioners, questioned whether the project could be done in stages to reduce the possibility of a tax increase.
It's all about timing Bradshaw said. If the jail improvements can wait until other county debt can be retired in two years it might be possible to fund the projects without a tax increase.
Tellico Village resident Richard Anklin attends most meetings of the jail study committee. He told those present that the county can fund the project without a tax increase by timing the stages of construction including site, preparation, expansion of the men's facility and then the women's facility, to coincide with the retirement of the debt.
The county can also make use of an extra four cents, added on the property tax rate a few years ago to fund the school building program but never used, Anklin said.
County commissioner Van Shaver was not at the meeting but he said getting commission to agree to transfer the extra four cents from the school building fund to the jail fund will be a lot easier said than done.