Study: 14 more jailers needed for new Hawkins County Jail

Jeff Bobo • Feb 15, 2009 at 12:00 AM

ROGERSVILLE — Completion of the new Hawkins County Jail might solve current inmate security problems, but it will create a new problem of how to pay for the 14 additional jailers needed to run the facility.

Sheriff Roger Christian recently received the results of a University of Tennessee County Technical Assistance Service (C-TAS) study on staffing requirements for the new 232-bed jail expected to be completed this summer in Rogersville.

Christian currently has a jail staff of 15, and the study recommends the addition of 14 new jailers, which will average out to around seven per each of the four shifts.

With a starting jailer salary of $21,500, Christian said he’s “got some ciphering to do” to figure out how to come up with approximately $300,000 per year in salary, not including benefits, that he’ll need to meet the new staff recommendation beginning in the next fiscal year.

“I’ve got to sit down and figure out how we’re going to pay for 14 new jailers, and that’s a minimum, because when we get up to 232 inmates, that’s going to require an enormous amount of work to watch all these people,” Christian said.

The existing Hawkins County Jail has experienced a long list of incidents over the past decade including escapes, beatings, arson and drug smuggling. Christian said he believes the new facility will make it difficult for inmates to cause the kinds of problems they’ve caused at the existing jail.

“It’s going to be a much more secure facility, and it’s built with current events and current inmates in mind,” Christian said. “We will use a lot of electronic monitoring throughout the facility, and the biggest thing is being able to monitor inmates’ activities much, much more. Plus, the levels of security we have here (at the new jail) will not allow escape very easily.

Christian toured the jail Friday with the Times-News and Hale Construction supervisor David Dugger. Dugger couldn’t offer a specific time of completion of the $12 million facility, but he estimates some time this summer. The justice center is being built in the old Rogersville K-Mart store, and aside from the jail incudes three courtrooms, clerk’s offices and the sheriff’s office.

“We lack some ceilings, floors, cabinet work, some paving outside, and a little bit on the (water pressure) pump house,” Dugger said. “We’re waiting on different (subcontracted) trades to do their thing so we can come in behind them and finish what we need too do. The floor will be one of the last things we do because it will get tore up if we do it now.

“(The jail) is getting real close. They should both be done around the same time (this summer).”

The current Hawkins County Jail was built nearly 35 years ago at a time when the county population was a little more than half what it is now, and the number of violent offenders wasn’t as high.

A lot of today’s problems didn’t exist when the current jail was built, particularly dealing with the number of meth and pill addicts who begin to detox while in jail, which causes a tremendous amount of stress and conflicts between inmates.

Christian said one of the biggest problems with the current facility is an inability to segregate problem inmates. The new jail will improve that situation significantly.

And with a centralized jailer control room for both the men’s and women’s areas, jailers will be able to monitor inmates in every block at all times — which isn’t possible with the design of the current jail.

The current jail has a capacity for 66 inmates, and is often more than 80. But overcrowding is just the beginning of the problem.

“Just because we have beds for 66 people doesn’t mean we can take 66 in and divide them evenly in the cell blocks,” Christian said. “When you have inmates who cannot get along with other inmates, you have to segregate them, and that’s what we try to do now. We’re utilizing all the space we have.

“Outside the cell blocks the only other places we have are what’s commonly called the drunk tanks, and we have a couple of visitor’s booths that we’re utilizing to hold individuals who can’t get along with anybody else. In here we’ll have actual segregation areas.”

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