EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the latest installment of a series looking at the Hamblen County Jail and efforts to build a new jail.
County Mayor Bill Brittain said he expects ground to be broken for a new jail by the end of the year.
“The commissioners and I would like for it to move faster,” Brittain said. “But, we’d like to get it right.”
The indication of when construction will finally start on a new jail comes after the county floated its first bond for the structure last week, the first of four different potential bond issues.
The county issued a $20 million bond last week with an interest rate of 2.4%. He said over a 30-year period that will mean the county will pay around $28.85 million.
Brittain said that rate came in lower than expected.
“This first one, we budgeted for 3.5% and it came in at 2.4,” Brittain said. “So, that’s a significant savings.”
The first bond will be used for different phases. About $10 million of the money is being used for renovations at Morristown-Hamblen High School West. The rest of the money will be used for property acquisition for the new jail, demolition on the property and finally design for the building.
The jail will be located adjacent to the current jail and justice center on Allison Street.
Over the last year, the county has acquired several pieces of property around the area as it began addressing the issue of building a jail, which has been contentious for more than a decade. The jail is overcrowded and faces issues of inhumane conditions for prisoners and jail workers. The Hamblen County Jail has not been certfied for a number of years due to those issues.
Brittain has said the county is also facing more than a dozen lawsuits due to the conditions and there is a fear that if the county does not act then a federal judge will order the county to build a jail.
Most recently, the Tennessee State Fire Marshal’s Office told the county in November that the prison inmate poplulation needed to be decreased or the county could face consequences.
Brittain said Wednesday the state fire marshal’s office conducted an inspection last week. He said the prison population has been decreased to around 355 inmates compared to an average of more than 400 inmates a day a couple of months ago.
He said there are still some concerns from the fire marshal’s office, but he said they were pleased with the progress.
“They seem satisfied we’ve made significant progress,” he said.
Brittain said the county plans on at least three more bond issues over the next two years. He said the next bond issue could be later this year or early 2021.
He said he thinks he sees an end date to finally having the jail finished.
“We’ll walk in the door Fall ’22,” he said.