The future is now

Sheriff seeks answer to overcrowding at county’s Detention Center

The Anderson County Sheriff’s Department has requested a $1.4 million increase for the upcoming county budget cycle.

The increase would cover the salaries and benefits for an additional 17 employees, including one additional School Resource Officer. It would allow the sheriff’s department to open up Unit 1 that was built six years ago. Unit 1 was designed back then to alleviate overcrowding they expected would take place in the future.

“And the future is now,” said Anderson County Sheriff Russell Barker.

Overcrowding creates a host of problems. The jail isn’t staffed with enough people to supervise the inmates. The medical and meal costs are high.

It’s dangerous.

And inmates are sleeping on the floor.

The Tennessee Corrections Institute, which mandated that Unit 1 be built in Anderson County, considers anything over 85-percent capacity overcrowding, because beyond that point, you lose the ability to classify prisoners.

Violent criminals get housed with those driving on a revoked license, for example. That exact situation resulted in a lawsuit against the county a few years ago, according to Barker, when a man who was in jail for driving on a revoked license was violently beaten by two other inmates.

Just last week, Anderson County sent the Rhea County inmates that were in the Anderson County Detention Center back home.

Rhea County was leasing 25 beds from Anderson County, since their own jail was even more overcrowded than Anderson’s.

Rhea County is building a new jail with 300 beds that should be completed by the end of the year, and so they would have gone back anyway, but that is a revenue stream of around $30,000 per month that the sheriff’s department will lose.

It doesn’t really make a difference in the budget though, according to Barker, because the county jail also houses state inmates. It was projected that the county would house 125 state inmates per month — at a rate of $38 a day from the state — but that number has ended up being closer to 170.

So the projected revenue is significantly higher than projected.

Housing inmates isn’t designed to be a revenue stream, and, according to Barker, that isn’t the reason they do it. State inmates would be there whether the county wants them there or not. They’re not “bussed in” from somewhere else in the state, according to Barker, although that is a common misconception.

These are homegrown men and women that were sentenced in criminal court or accepted a plea deal.

For example, someone who committed a felony — John Doe vs. the State of Tennessee — and goes before the judge in Anderson County criminal court, and then receives a five-year sentence, would be sent to the Anderson County Detention Center.

It’s not someone in a state prison who the Tennessee Department of Corrections sends off somewhere else due to overcrowding.

These are Anderson County residents or people who committed crimes in Anderson County.

And if other counties want to send their inmates to Anderson County, Barker has to approve it.

Overcrowding is not a problem unique to Anderson County.

According to the Tennessee Department of Corrections, the Roger D. Wilson jail in Knox County is at 113-percent capacity.

Loudon County is at 193-percent. Morgan County is at 191-percent.

Rhea County is at 158-percent and Blount is at 171-percent.

Anderson County is actually only at 98.9-percent, but according to Barker, that’s a little misleading. Out of 435, 430 beds are full (This is based on TDOC records. The number per day fluctuates based on how many arrests have been made, and Barker said the population hovers around 440.)

Based on the 430 number, that means that technically there are five available beds.

That isn’t accurate, though, because it doesn’t take into account the fact that those available beds are usually in the sex offender pod, and other criminals cannot be housed in the same section.

Over the summer, the number of inmates usually spikes by at least 10-percent, according to Barker.

Anderson County commissioners met on Monday for a special called meeting to discuss budget issues. Nothing was decided, and the requested increase from Barker and other departments was kicked back to the budget committee.

“This is a need, not a want,” said Barker.

But, he worries that the state will force them to open Unit 1 whether it’s in the budget or not.