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Johnson County Jail overcrowding can lead to loss of all state inmate revenue; Sheriff offers idea to convert empty building into jail annex for additional housing

By Marlana Ward

Representatives from the Johnson County Sheriff’s Department and a number of the Johnson County Commissioners came together February 7, 2017 to discuss the department‘s overcrowding situation and future revenue possibilities.
Presently, the county jail houses approximately 57 state inmates at any given time.  The Tennessee Department of Corrections pays the county $37 per day to house these inmates.  Housing costs run close to $5 per day, giving the county a revenue profit every day a state inmate is kept in county custody.
While the money earned by keeping state inmates helps the county budget, increases in the number of county inmates being booked into the jail has lead to overcrowding and the inability of the department to house as many state inmates. Sheriff Mike Reece spoke to the commissioners present about recent visits by inspectors to the jail and the resulting departure of 14 state inmates due to crowding issues found.
“The inspectors look at yearly averages,” Sheriff Reece explained.  “If they find that there are too many we could lose certification to house state inmates.”
Sheriff Reece explained that the housing of the state inmates within the county jail had led to a surplus in the jail’s budget and that money was put into the county budget, helping to keep taxes from being raised.  He stated that if the county did not take advantage of the opportunity to house the state inmates, budget shortfalls would lead to increased taxes and budget cuts by the county. With over 28,000 state inmates being presently held in county jails across the state, the potential is high for income by counties through housing a portion of these inmates.
Commissioner George Lowe questioned the rise in local prisoners leading to overcrowding and asked if the addition of requiring property title searches for bonds had contributed to more local inmates being unable to post bond and leave the jail.  County attorney Perry Stout stated that the title searches had not had a negative effect on the bond system and was a way to protect the county from worthless bonds.
Commissioners questioned what could be done to help with current overcrowding and expressed their dissatisfaction with the current jail’s construction and location.  Given the jail’s limited space on the Honeysuckle Street property, expansion of the building is not an option.
Sheriff Reece presented the idea of converting the county’s empty industrial building located in the Industrial Park on Highway 67W into a jail annex that could be used to house state inmates.  The building, which has been empty since its construction several years ago, has the size and utility connections to make it a viable option for repurposing to a jail.  Preliminary calculations done by the sheriff’s office had shown that the ability to house approximately 150 inmates in a building of that size.  With 150 inmates at an annex location, as well as the 65 inmates that could be housed at the current jail location, the earning potential for the county could be $3.4 million, which would equal a surplus of over $1 million dollars after operating costs.
For the rest of the story and a sidebar of more details and information, pick up a copy of this week’s Tomahawk.