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By DAMON LAWRENCE
Some Christmas gifts just keep on giving. The new Roane County Jail could be the project that just keeps on costing.
Sheriff Jack Stockton has revised the number of additional staff he said he’ll need to operate the facility. He previously put the number at eight full time and four part time.
Stockton said he did a walk-through with an inspector from the Tennessee Corrections Institute last week, and it was determined that his previous staff estimate wouldn’t be enough.
“We went over all the positions and determined that 12 full-time was going to be a minimum number we’re going to need,” Stockton said.
“That’s the least that I could probably get by with and everyone do all their mandated duties that’s supposed to be done by the state.”
The new jail, which cost around $10 million to build, could open sometime in June.
It could take a property-tax increase to fund 12 additional full-time employees. Without them, Stockton said the new jail faces the possibility of not being certified by the TCI.
“If we failed to meet any of those minimum standards, then he (the jail inspector) could recommend decertification, even though it would be a new building,” Stockton said.
Decertification was one of the reasons the county built a new jail. The current facility was decertified by the TCI in December 2007.
Peggy Sawyer, a spokeswoman for TCI, said building a brand new facility doesn’t automatically guarantee certification.
“They could have a state of the art facility and if it’s not run right or managed right, it’s possible that it couldn’t certify,” she said.
Commissioner David Currier, chairman of the county’s sheriff’s liaison committee, said he doesn’t know if the sheriff will get 12 additional employees. Even if he doesn’t, Currier said he’s confident the new jail will be certified.
“We went down to Marshall County and they operate the same jail with 120-something prisoners with four on two shifts and five on two shifts,” Currier said. “We’ve already got 22 people, and I don’t have any concerns that however many he gets, he can’t operate the jail and it be certified.”
Sawyer said the state doesn’t have a specific standard for staffing, but the state does mandate certain things be done, and that’s where staffing can become an issue.
The new jail is more than double the size of the old one and will house more prisoners.
“There’s no way to do all those mandates in that large of a facility with double the population,” Stockton said. “It would just be extremely difficult. We’d be starting out treading water, and hoping that we didn’t sink. That’s not a good setting to start off with.”
TCI’s set of minimum standards for jails is 28 pages long.
“If none of this is being done, we look at why it’s not being done, and many times it comes back to staffing,” Sawyer said. “The officers just don’t have enough time to get it done.”
TCI is big on cleanliness.
“You have to worry about keeping control of the building itself, keeping it clean, and keep it from deteriorating,” Stockton said.
When prisoners go to jail, the county is also responsible for taking care of their medical needs.
Stockton said each time an inmate has to go to a hospital, he has to send a corrections officer with them.
“While that officer is gone, nothing is getting done at that working position because that officer is gone,” Stockton said.
Stockton said that can be a burden on staffing, especially if inmates have to spend days or weeks in the hospital.
The sheriff’s office will have a workshop with the county commission on May 19.
Currier said that will be the time for Stockton to convince the commissioners on why he needs 12 additional full-time jailers.
“If that’s what he has to have, then we’ll have to vote for it and we’ll have to have them,” Currier said. “But we’re not sitting down on that number just yet.”
Stockton said even if he gets the 12 full-time staffers that he insists are needed, staffing problems could still come up if he has a lot of officers out sick or a bunch of inmates in the hospital for prolonged periods of time.
“There’s still going to be an issue,” Stockton said. “We will need part-time help.”