Expansion of Sullivan County Jail inches forward

J. H. Osborne • Oct 27, 2017 at 7:56 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — Plans to expand Sullivan County Jail facilities to eliminate long time overcrowding inched forward Thursday.

A committee created more than three years ago to address overcrowding and other issues at the jail voted to recommend hiring an outside consultant — as soon as possible — to develop a “master plan” for the entire “jail campus.”

The goal of such a plan is to determine the most efficient use of the 30-plus-acre property occupied by the Blountville Justice Center — which houses the main jail — the “medium security annex,” and other components of the county’s jail system. The committee’s discussion indicated a consensus among members that the annex should be eliminated in favor of construction of new facilities to the east of the current main jail. That would help make housing inmates more efficient, members said.

The Sullivan County Commission will be asked to approve the hiring, and the funding for it, at its November meeting.

The vote to recommend hiring a firm to produce a master plan for the whole site came after the group heard long-anticipated results of an engineering study of the two facilities currently used to hold inmates.

Steve Wilson, of Spoden & Wilson, said the study showed both facilities are structurally sound and that the main jail (built more than 30 years ago) can serve as a basis for the needed expansion. Wilson said while that building’s original design included the possibility of adding a third floor, he would not recommend that as the best option. Sheriff Wayne Anderson and jail staff agreed that adding new inmate housing on another floor would not be desirable. There was some talk, however, that a third floor addition could become the new home for some of the sheriff’s office administration offices — freeing up the two-story wing where those office are now located. But that, too, was seen as less efficient than adding new jail facilities directly behind the current main jail. 

The jail has been under scrutiny by the Tennessee Corrections Institute (TCI) for more than three years. In 2014, the Sullivan County Jail nearly lost its certification due to overcrowding and other deficiencies found during an inspection by the TCI. The jail has retained its certification under "plan of action" status, which means county officials are able to show the progress toward solving the problem.

In August 2016, a needs assessment study of the jail — produced by a consultant specializing in jail management who works for the University of Tennessee’s County Technical Assistance Service — indicated the county must expand its jail facilities.