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Regional & National

Overcrowding continues at Tennessee's county jails

December 10th, 2012 5:45 pm by Associated Press

NASHVILLE -- The backup of state inmates into Tennessee county jails will continue despite the opening of a new prison in Bledsoe County.


According to The Tennessean (http://bit.ly/QSq11L ), there are nearly 5,000 felons being housed by counties. Some will be moved into the new Bledsoe County Correctional Complex in Pikeville, but its capacity is 1,540 inmates.


The newspaper reported more than half of the state's 109 local jails have more inmates than beds and that some hold more than twice the number for which they are certified.


Counties that build new jails find they fill up quickly. Carter County opened its new 296-bed jail in June. By the end of October, only 18 beds weren't occupied.


Overcrowded jails risk decertification, put counties at greater lawsuit risk and increase insurance costs.


"It could get super expensive," said Bedford County Sheriff Randall Boyce. He has dealt with overcrowding for years and his jail has, so far, remained certified. "Insurance premiums go out of sight. And you can get ready for the lawsuit from hell."


Putnam County Sheriff David Andrews said looking for outside cell space is nothing new to him.


"I've been shuffling inmates for years. If somebody's got an empty bed, we're taking it," Andrews said, who has had to pay other counties to house some of his inmates.


"Now they're running out of beds," he said.


The state bears some of the cost, paying about $37 per day for each state inmate housed in a local jail. The number of state inmates has risen by 4.5 percent since 2003, but jail populations have exploded, growing nearly 42 percent.


"I can't say one particular thing is driving that," said Department Correction Commissioner Derrick Schofield. "If we don't have bed space and the numbers go up in the jail, you're going to have that."


Schofield said alternative sentencing could help. He said drug courts that focus on treatment, rather than incarceration, could help take pressure off of jails and prisons.


Meanwhile, some inmates are still sleeping on floors in county jails. One is Ghina Robinson, who ended up in the Putnam County Jail on a parole violation charge.


"It sucks -- people walking all over you, you wake up you've got everybody else's hair on you, it's nasty," said Robinson. "I mean, it's the floor."


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Information from: The Tennessean, http://www.tennessean.com

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