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Roane County Sheriff Jack Stockton said jail inmates have become quite resourceful at making holes in the fence at the exercise yard.
The problem could cost thousands of dollars to fix.
“Once they get in a semi-circle and somebody starts working the fence, it’s easy to manipulate,” Stockton said. “They’ve actually got now where they can pull the strips out on each end of the fencing and you can just slide it back.”
County Executive Ron Woody told the budget committee last week that the problem is so bad that repairing the fence is not an option.
That’s been tried numerous times before, he said, and the problems continue to occur.
“We’re going to have to put a new fence up, either new fencing on the existing poles or another fence,” Woody said. “It’s going to be something more permanent to the structure, so we’re going to have to have an engineer certify what we can put on the existing poles if that’s what we do.”
On Monday the Roane County Commission voted to appropriate $20,000 in county litigation tax revenue to remedy the fencing problem.
“It may be more, it may be less than this,” Woody said, “but at this juncture it’s become more of an emergency for operations over there, so we need to get going.”
Stockton said keeping the inmates off the exercise yard is not an option.
“We can’t keep them locked up,” he said. “They have to have the one-hour of exercise at least three times a week.”
Stockton said the problems with the exercise yard fence can be traced back to construction of the jail, which opened in 2009.
“In the way that the fence is designed, it’s easy to manipulate,” he said. “The gauge of wire first of all is not to the standard it should have been. It’s half of what we actually needed. My understanding is prison wire is twice as thick.”
“We can patch it, but it’s going to happen again,” the sheriff added. “Maybe they’re coming up with a different plan now to make it big enough where all 25 or 30 of them can get out at once.”
If the inmates were to escape the exercise yard, they would still have some work to do before they could escape the jail because another fence sits beyond the exercise yard.
“They were using it as a practice field for an escape later on down the road,” Stockton said.