Hamblen Jail fails recertification inspection
It may not come as a surprise to many, but the Hamblen County Jail will remain without certification, even with more than $100,000 worth of maintenance problems resolved.
The jail failed its annual inspection in July, and local authorities were given a short period of time to fix problems the state outlined in a report.
Hamblen County Mayor Bill Brittain said it was no surprise.
“We’re doing all we can do to keep the jail in as good of shape as we can,” he said. “We just don’t have enough room for the prisoners we’re housing. We are addressing that with a needs assessment study. We’re moving forward in a methodical planned approach to deal with the long term problems.”
Last month, Hamblen County Commission Chairman Stancil Ford announced all the maintenance problems had been resolved.
The commission previously approved more than $100,000 to go towards “updates” at the jail that included addressing a mold outbreak, painting the jail, fixing lighting and repairing doors.
That money, however, was not enough to get the jail recertified.
Rampant overcrowding and under staffing remain the prevalent problems at the jail.
Saturday morning, the jail was nearly 100 inmates over its 255 inmate capacity.
The jail also houses state inmates, which account for more than $110,000 a month or more than $1,300,000 a year, toward the budget.
Because the Hamblen County Jail is operated under the county’s guidance, that money goes into the county’s fund.
In May, Brittain, Hamblen County Sheriff Esco Jarnagin and Ford went to Nashville to talk to the Department of Corrections commissioner about how the jail is paid to house state inmates.
Jails in Tennessee are partially funded by the number of state inmates they hold on a day-to-day basis. Until recently, the Hamblen County Jail received $32.46 a day for each state inmate it housed.
Now, with the efforts of Ford, Brittain and Jarnagin, they are receiving $37 a day for each inmate.
One problem with remaining decertified for too many years is the state has the authority to remove state inmates, which would mean losing the money those inmates bring.
That instance occurred in Bedford County. After years of overcrowding and complaints the county was housing too many inmates, the state began removing state inmates and placing them elsewhere.
When the jail was built in 1979, Hamblen County had a population of around 49,000 people, according to the U.S. Census. In 2008, an addition was built which increased the number of beds to 255.
Hamblen County now has an estimated population of more than 62,000 people. More people mean more crimes.
In the past eight years, the jail has only passed certification three times.
“We are overcrowded, we are extremely understaffed. Being overcrowded generates many problems,” Jarnagin said. “(It is) constantly repaired and maintained daily under my administration.”
Ford said Hamblen County isn’t the only jail facing the issue of overcrowding.
“We realize we have an over crowding situation and all the jails across the state are also overcrowded,” Ford said. “We will continue to correct everything we can possibly correct. We are getting close to getting an assessment made and that will be forthcoming. We will continue to do everything we can to make that facility as safe and secure as we possible can with the overcrowding.”
On Oct. 1, county authorities will interview three of the top bidders for a needs assessment study of the Hamblen County Jail.
- By Aletheia Davidson, Tribune Staff Writer