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Sullivan jail recertified by state board

J. H. Osborne • Dec 17, 2019 at 1:00 PM

The Sullivan County Jail is officially re-certified by the statewide board with authority over such things, the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office announced on Monday.

Although overcrowding remains a significant issue, the Tennessee Correctional Institute’s Board of Controls voted during a meeting in Nashville earlier this month to re-certify Sullivan County’s jail facilities. The board recognized “the overall progress Sullivan County has made in moving forward with a solution to the overcrowding problem,” the sheriff’s office’s announcement stated, in part. Other details included:

Sullivan County’s jail facilities were inspected by the TCI’s Board of Controls back in late August, including examination of equipment and a review of overall operations at the main jail and the nearby “annex” or “extension.”

Overcrowding was listed as a finding along with a fire panel in need of repair.

Since then, the fire panel has been repaired, and the TCI Board recognized the overall progress Sullivan County has made in moving forward with a solution to the overcrowding problem.

As a result, the Sullivan County Jail was officially re-certified on Dec. 4 during a meeting held by the TCI Board in Nashville.

Sheriff Jeff Cassidy presented a progress report at that meeting regarding actions being taken to address the overcrowding situation. The board was updated on plans to start a pretrial release program along with information about a study that has been launched to develop a master plan for expanding the jail.

The Sullivan County Jail has been operating under a plan of action since 2014. Corrections officers have worked diligently in transferring state inmates to other county jails as well as prisons within the Tennessee Department of Corrections system in an effort to reduce the headcount.

The jail was built to hold a maximum of 619 inmates but recently reached a record high, housing 1,082 inmates. The current population is about 900.

Late last month, the Sullivan County Commission approved Cassidy’s request for money to hire 10 new deputies in order to launch a “pretrial release” program. The goal is to move nonviolent inmates who haven’t yet been to trial from the overcrowded county jail to their homes. The new officers will be trained and dedicated to monitoring inmates granted approval for participation in the program.

The cost: $817,000 to get the program up and running for the rest of this budget year (that money will come from the county’s fund balance) and an estimated $564,800 per year in recurring costs beginning July 1, 2020. That’s about 2 cents on the county’s property tax rate, according to comments from commissioners prior to the vote. But the cost could be offset if it reduces the county’s potential liability for longtime, ongoing overcrowding in its two jail facilities.

Cassidy first publicly introduced his plan to start the program a week after a $3 million federal lawsuit against the county was filed by a former inmate. That lawsuit seeks to be designated a class-action suit, which means other inmates and former inmates could join it and up the amount of money being sought.

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