Hamblen County is decreasing its population of state jail inmates in an effort to comply with a request by the state fire marshal’s office to lower population numbers or face a mandatory reduction.
“We’re going to ship all the state inmates to state prison,” said Hamblen County Sheriff Esco Jarnagin.
The comments were made Monday night during the county commission’s regularly scheduled workshop session.
Jarnagin made the comments after a citizen asked in the public comment session what the county was doing to solve the problem.
The state fire marshal’s office inspected the Hamblen County Jail almost a month ago and found that it was not compliant with fire codes with overcrowding so bad that escape paths were blocked from being used because of people sleeping on the floor.
The jail is certified to hold 255 inmates, but consistently houses more than 400 inmates.
Currently, the jail is holding 54 state inmates, Jarnagin said.
There have been about 12 inmates that have been moved, county officials said.
“We’ve already transferred some out,” Jarnagin said. “There will be more.”
The state has told the county that it plans to conduct another inspection in early January. But it has not given the county a hard number of how many inmates it needs to have move out to comply.
Jarnagin said he has reached out to all other 94 counties in the state in order to find if any other jurisdiction had beds that Hamblen County could rent. He said the only county to reach out was Dickson County in Middle Tennessee and they only had five beds available. That jail is also more than six hours away.
County Mayor Bill Brittain said county officials plan to meet with the Tennessee Department of Corrections today to discuss using ankle bracelets for child support offenders, another way of decreasing the jail population.
He said the jail consistently averages between 400 to 430 inmates daily.
Brittain said the state pays the county around $39 a day to house state inmates. The county currently has budgeted $800,000 this fiscal year for state inmates.
Brittain said he thinks if the jail can get down to around 380 to 385 inmates the state marshal’s office would be agreeable the county is taking steps to solve the problem.
“We won’t get to 255,” he said.
The Finance Committee also approved a resolution to go before the full commission that would support the Tennessee Emergency Communication Board’s effort to restore emergency communication charges from $1.16 to its original charge of $1.50.
This fee is charged per phone line monthly.
Brittain told commissioners the Tennessee General Assembly plans to look at issue in next year’s budget. If the fee were increased back to $1.50 that would mean more money would come back into local governments’ hands instead of subsidizing the fee.
The committee voted 9-0 in favor. The committee also voted 9-0 in favor of automating the county’s Coroner Office. Brittain explained that currently Coroner’s Office does everything by paper.
The Coroner’s Office is asking for $8,500 to cover the costs of upgrading. However, $6,500 is a one-time fee to help pay for tablets and software. The rest would be recurring costs through a subscription service.
The regularly scheduled meeting of the Hamblen County Commission will be 5 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 19.