Sullivan County reduced jail population by 310 inmates from January through April

J. H. Osborne • Jun 21, 2020 at 4:45 PM

BLOUNTVILLE — The Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office decreased the number of inmates in the Sullivan County Jail by 310 between January and April, according to a study conducted by the County Technical Assistance Service. That ranked Sullivan County in first place in reducing jail crowding among 40 counties included in the study, which was requested by the Tennessee County Services Association.

The study’s purpose: to gauge COVID-19’s impact on jail spending and inmate populations.

According to the Tennessee County Services Association’s weekly bulletin dated June 5:

• Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Jeff Bivins issued an order March 25 directing the presiding judge of each judicial district to reduce the number of nonviolent offenders held in county jails. As a result, the total jail population statewide dropped 30% from the end of February to the end of April — a reduction of 9,156 inmates.

• Based on information from the Tennessee Department of Corrections, more than half of county jails across the state were at or above 100% capacity at the end of February, and by the end of April, less than 10 facilities were at that level.

• The study examined the operational costs of 40 county jails during the first four months of the year. In 32, there was a reduction of expenses. Seven, including Sullivan County, reduced monthly operating costs by more than $100,000.

From the study:

Inmate Counts

• The smallest jail in the review was Clay County (14 beds) and the largest was Sumner County (832 beds). Every jail in the review had a reduction in its inmate population during this period. The combined reduction of the inmate population in these 40 counties totaled 2,887. The smallest reduction was four inmates (Decatur County) while the largest reduction was 310 (Sullivan County).

Variances in Total Monthly Expenditures

When comparing January 2020 and April 2020, the majority (32 counties) recognized a reduction of expenditures.

The majority of expenditure reductions, across the counties studied, included salary and benefits, medical and dental services, food supplies, and utilities.

• In January, Sullivan County’s average daily jail population was 916. That dropped to 805 in March, and by April reached 606. Sullivan County’s jail facilities are certified to house 619 inmates.

• While Sullivan County’s monthly expenditures for its jail facilities dropped, along with inmate population, from $1.2 million in January, to about $973,000 in April, the estimated cost per inmate day for the month rose from $42.38 to $53.50. That’s due to fixed costs (overhead) being distributed across a lower number of inmates being housed.

• Averaging the expenditures over the four-month period studied results in an average daily inmate population of 812 for Sullivan County — and a drop in the average estimated cost per inmate per day, from $42.38 in January to $40.19 in April.

• Statewide, the inmate population was reduced by 31.1% from 29,849 inmates in custody on Feb. 29 to 20,560 in custody in May. 

The CTAS study, drafted by Jim Hart, jail management consultant, University of Tennessee, cautioned that its figures regarding estimated changes to yearly costs for jail budgets (such as annual cost to house an inmate) should be taken as just that — estimates, because many variables could play a role in long-term impacts from the pandemic.


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