By Becky Jane Newbold
Deficiencies found during a June 27, 2016 inspection of the Lewis County Jail resulted in a lack of certification for the county owned facility.
Based on findings from a report, a letter from Tennessee Corrections Institute Executive Director Beth Ashe stated, “this facility does not meet all applicable minimum standards.” Cited as deficiencies were a broken urinal in men’s minimum security housing, fixed ratios cannot be met due to inmate overcrowding, inmates cannot be classified because of overcrowding and inmates were preparing food in the kitchen without staff supervision.
Overcrowding has been reported to each Board of Commissioners since 2007 by Sheriff Dwayne Kilpatrick who has urged the county to take action.
A five million dollar jail expansion was approved in October of 2012 by the Board of Commissioners under former Mayor Van Ward. According to Lewis County Commissioner Robert Brewer, who also serves as executive assistant to Mayor Bill Webb, “no clear plan existed to pay back a loan” for the jail.
The current Board of Commissioners halted any expenditures toward the approved jail project in February 2015 “until such time as county finances could support the expense.” A November 2015 resolution authorized Mayor Webb to join Tennessee Corrections Institute County Corrections Partnership (CCP) and to create a County Correctional Partnership committee.
Blueprint drawings started under the 2012 resolutions have been submitted for evaluation to ensure the project will be accepted by the Tennessee Corrections Institute (TCI).
Services provided by CCP and County Technical Assistance Service (CTAS) are at no cost to Lewis County.
“The Corrections Institute has to approve plans,” Brewer explained. “It’s going to be a year’s process, it looks like,” he added.
A number of inmates housed in Lewis County are classified as state prisoners. “These are Lewis County inmates who have been sentenced to state prison,” Sheriff Kilpatrick explained. The local jail receives compensation in the amount of $37.00 per day from the state to house and care for these inmates.
According to Jail Administrator Rebecca Gleason, that money would be cut in half if Lewis County remains without certification, but the prisoners will still require local housing and medical care.
Deficiencies at the jail are the result of an aging facility with parts unavailable for repairs, Sheriff Kilpatrick stated. “What we currently have is not compatible with what’s on the market,” Gleason said.
There is no full time cook on staff at the facility, Administrator Gleason reported. Inmates preparing food in the kitchen are monitored by camera supervised by a part-time cook when available, Sheriff Kilpatrick confirmed.
Overcrowding in the jail forces inmates charged with serious crimes such as murder and rape, or inmates experiencing detox from drug use to be placed in the same cell with someone with a lesser crime like not paying child support, Sheriff Kilpatrick explained. “This causes problems. We cannot separate inmates when needed.”
The stress of managing overcrowding, coupled with low pay (starting at $10 per hour) creates challenges in maintaining adequate supervisory staff at the jail. The jail was designed in 1994 for 48 beds. An average of 60 inmates were housed in the past three months. “We cannot find anyone to work,” Gleason said.
A formal Plan of Action must be submitted and approved by TCI by September 7, 2016 to have Lewis County Jail be reconsidered for certification.