Estimated cost for jail fix for Sullivan: $85 million to more than $110 million

J. H. Osborne • Sep 13, 2019 at 9:15 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — The projected cost of expanding and renovating current Sullivan County jail facilities is nearly $85 million, according to a presentation to the Sullivan County Commission on Thursday by the consulting firm hired earlier this year.

Building a completely new jail on a new site and with potential space to add courtrooms later, carries a price tag of more than $110 million — not including the cost of land. The consultants recommend that a new site should be at least 30 acres.


The $85 million figure is based on one conceptual design first presented a few weeks ago. It would more than double the number of certified beds, from about 619 to more than 1,400, and it is projected to meet the county’s needs for 20 years.

In recent weeks, it hasn’t been unusual for the county’s two jail facilities to hold more than 1,000 inmates total. The 1,400 figure being able to handle the jail population for the next 20 years is based on the assumption that new programs to educate and help inmates address addiction issues succeed in reducing the need for space by 15 percent.

This concept would renovate the existing main jail and add a single-story addition to its back with five “pods,” each housing 56 inmates in two-man cells. Each pod has its own “yard,” where inmates are allowed for recreation each day. The pods, while described as “single-story,” actually are the height of two stories — with a “mezzanine” level along each side. There are cells on the floor level and cells directly above on the mezzanine. Guard stations are positioned in a hallway overlooking the pods from about the mezzanine level.

Each pod also includes a classroom for programs aimed at reducing recidivism and a room to be used by jail medical staff. The design greatly reduces the movement of inmates within the jail. The addition also would house a new kitchen, new laundry, and new booking area. This plan also calls for an addition to the jail “annex,” which would house female inmates.

In all, the expansion would increase jail facilities from 125,000 square feet to 300,000 square feet. $12 million of the $85 million figure is for renovations to the current main jail, which is more than 30 years old — which the consultants described as “100 years in jail years.”

Renovation and expansion of current facilities also presents a challenge because work would be going on while the facilities are overcrowded with inmates.

New Jail, New Site

While more costly on the front end, a new jail at a new site could cost less over the next 20 years. How? The consultants said it would likely reduce staffing and maintenance costs. They will provide estimates on those savings at a future meeting.

The new site concept would construct a brand new 300,000-square-foot sheriff’s office and jail facility. It would use the same design for “pods” as the expansion proposal. It would result in the same number of beds. It would be designed to be joined with a new two- to three-story courthouse. But the $110 million cost projection does not include the new courthouse. Locating a new courthouse with the new jail would reduce costs by eliminating the need to transport inmates to and from court.


The jail has been under scrutiny by the Tennessee Corrections Institute (TCI) for about five years. In 2014, the Sullivan County Jail nearly lost its certification due to overcrowding and other deficiencies found during an inspection by the TCI. The jail has retained its certification under “plan of action” status, which means county officials are able to show progress toward solving the problems.

In August 2016, a needs assessment study of the jail — produced by a consultant specializing in jail management who works for the University of Tennessee’s County Technical Assistance Service — indicated the county must expand its jail facilities.

In 2017, an ad hoc jail study committee, created in 2014 to look for a long-range solution to constant overcrowding, recommended the Sullivan County Commission hire an outside consultant to study current facilities and develop a recommendation for the whole “jail campus” including whether to renovate, expand, build new — or some combination of those things.

Earlier this year, nearly a year after receiving proposals from seven architectural firms, the Sullivan County Commission hired Michael Brady, Inc. at a cost not to exceed $225,000 as a “first phase of trying to build a new jail.” MBI is expected to complete its work by November.


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