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By DAMON LAWRENCE
Overcrowding has kept some Roane County lawbreakers out of jail. Sheriff Jack Stockton said that won’t be the case once the county’s new jail opens.
“The criminals that have warrants on them and things of that nature, they better beware because we have a place to put them now,” Stockton said.
Overcrowding at the old jail kept the county in bad standing with the state.
The facility was only certified to hold 57 prisoners. Chief Deputy Tim Phillips said the sheriff’s office had over 100 on Tuesday.
Many people who belonged in jail got a pass because of the overcrowding.
“In the near future, I think Roane County will see that we are going to incarcerate those people,” Stockton said. “There will be a more aggressive pursuing of people that we do have active warrants on, particularly felony warrants.”
Despite efforts to keep the population down at the old jail, the Tennessee Corrections Institute still decertified the facility in December 2007.
This week Stockton said he plans to start moving prisoners into the new jail, which was designed to hold 172 prisoners.
The sheriff said the new jail’s capacity was one of the reasons he fought hard for additional jailers during the budget process.
The county commission approved a budget that allowed the sheriff to hire nine additional full-time jailers and one part timer. There was opposition to those new hires, especially from commissioner James Harmon. He was against giving the sheriff any additional staff.
“The jail budget has been setup like the day that you move into the new jail, you’re going to have 172 prisoners, and that’s not the case,” Harmon said.
With increased efforts to get lawbreakers off the street, it may not take long, according to the sheriff. He said the new jail could reach capacity in less than a year.
“There are criminals on the street that need to be inside that facility,” Stockton said. “You can rest assured that there are at least 172 that need to be in there.”
Months before the new jail was even finished, officials were already talking expansion. A move to spend $450,000 to acquire some adjacent properties around the jail was turned down by the county commission earlier this year.
Inmates from other counties could also be housed at the new jail. Other sheriffs have taken in Roane County inmates to help Stockton keep the population down at the old jail.
“So many I can’t name them all, but they’ve all been instrumental in helping us get through this crisis,” Stockton said.
Now that Roane County has more jail space, Stockton said he plans to return the favor to his fellow sheriffs.
“They are suffering from some of the same issues I had about overcrowding,” Stockton said. “I’m going to try to pay back some of the favors they’ve done for us and saved us a lot of money and a lot of time dealing with inmates.”
Stockton said the sheriff’s office plans to do a roundup of people who have outstanding warrants.
“We’re going to do a roundup with the felony warrants and pick some people up that need to be picked up that have kind of been on a waiting list more or less,” he said.