Nearly 66 percent of Sullivan County inmates awaiting trial, report says

J. H. Osborne • May 16, 2019 at 2:01 PM

BLOUNTVILLE — A report from the state says Sullivan County has more than enough state trial judges to handle the annual caseload, based on figures from the 12-month budget cycle that ended June 30, 2018. And the state’s latest monthly report on inmate populations at jails across the state shows nearly two out of three inmates in the overcrowded Sullivan County jail hadn’t been to court yet.

If that sounds contradictory, the caseload report does include a bit of a disclaimer: “The weighted caseload model can approximate judicial workload and the need for judicial resources, but it has limitations,” the report states. “Factors such as trial court clerks’ reporting processes, the availability of judicial support staff, and local legal practices also affect judicial resources.”

State law requires the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury to provide a caseload study yearly to compare the state’s existing judicial resources with an estimate of resources needed in each of the state’s 31 judicial districts. In our region, there are three judicial districts: The 1st Judicial District includes Carter, Johnson, Unicoi and Washington counties; the 2nd Judicial District is comprised solely of Sullivan County; and the 3rd Judicial District includes Greene, Hamblen, Hancock and Hawkins counties.

According the the annual caseload report, released last month by Tennessee’s Administrative Office of the Courts, the 2nd Judicial District has a slight surplus when it comes to state trial court judges. There are four: Chancellor E.G. Moody; Criminal Court Judge Jim Goodwin; Part I Circuit Court Judge John S. McClellan III; and Part II Circuit Court Judge William K. Rogers. The 1st and 3rd Judicial Districts each have five state trial court judges. According to the report, District 1 has operated for the last two years with less than enough judges, based on caseloads.


From the report:

7,851 cases were filed in state trial courts in the 1st Judicial District in fiscal year 2018; 6,392 cases were filed in those courts in the 2nd Judicial District (Sullivan County) during the same period; and 7,328 cases were filed in the 3rd Judicial District.

 Overall, 202,898 cases were filed in Tennessee’s state trial courts.

Criminal cases accounted for approximately 46 percent of cases, followed by domestic relations cases at 30 percent, and civil cases at 25 percent. Overall, filings increased from FY 2017 by 2,118 cases (1.05 percent). Criminal cases increased about 5.5 percent, civil cases decreased by less than 1 percent, and domestic relations cases decreased by over 3.5 percent. Looking at all case types, the largest change in the number of case filings from the prior year was seen for probation violations, which increased by 3,082 case filings.

Out of the 31 judicial districts across the state, the 2nd Judicial District (Sullivan County) ranked third when it came to probation violation cases filed — with 1,938 cases. The 20th Judicial District (Davidson County) was No. 1 with 3,237 probation violation cases filed, and the 4th Judicial District (Cocke, Grainger, Jefferson, and Sevier Counties) was No. 2, with 2,094 cases filed.

In the 1st Judicial District (Carter, Johnson, Unicoi and Washington counties) 1,719 probation violation cases were filed, and in the 3rd Judicial District (Greene, Hamblen, Hancock and Hawkins counties) 1,028 probation violation cases were filed — nearly half the number of such cases filed in Sullivan County alone.

Jail numbers

The Tennessee Department of Correction prepares monthly reports detailing inmate population numbers for 120 city and municipal jails across the state. The latest report available provides a one-day “snapshot” as of March 31, 2019. Among its findings:

The statewide average on how many inmates are pretrial is 51.1 percent (for fiscal year 2017-2018, which ended June 30, 2018). That’s up from 33.3 percent 20 years earlier, and 43.4 percent 10 years earlier, according to a report from July 2009.

64.9 percent of the 922 inmates in Sullivan County’s jails (660 in the main jail and 262 in the “extension”) were pretrial on March 31 of this year. 

In Washington County, the pretrial number was 39.7 percent. In Hawkins County, the number was 45.4 percent.

Of the jails covered by the report, 23 had higher percentages of pretrial inmates than Sullivan County. Of counties with more than one jail facility, only two had higher numbers of pretrial inmates: Knox County (78.1 percent) and Montgomery County (71.2 percent).

 Sullivan County’s two jail facilities were operating at 144.9 percent capacity on March 31.

Washington County’s two jail facilities were operating at 104.8 percent capacity on March 31, with 650 inmates and 620 beds.

• Hawkins County’s 266-bed jail was operating at 109.4 percent capacity on March 31, with 291 inmates.