published Thursday, February 7th, 2013

New Bledsoe prison expanding: Project to add 512 beds

Bledsoe County Correctional Complex
Bledsoe County Correctional Complex
Photo by Tim Barber.

BY THE NUMBERS

* 970: Beds in original Southeastern Tennessee State Regional Correctional Facility

* 1,444: Beds in new Bledsoe County Correctional Complex

* $208 million: Cost of Bledsoe project

* 425: Jobs associated with new prison

* 512: Number of beds planned for expansion

* 45: New jobs added with planned expansion

* $30 million: Cost of expansion

* 1,956: Total new inmate beds

Source: Tennessee Department of Correction

The $208 million Bledsoe County Correctional Complex, completed in December, is slated for a $30.25 million expansion before the first inmate has even moved in.

The expansion funded in Gov. Bill Haslam's 2013-14 budget will add 512 beds to the 1,444 the state will start filling in March, state Correction Department spokeswoman Dorinda Carter said.

"The facility was originally planned for this expansion," Carter said this week. "The space for the two additional housing buildings is already within the secure perimeter, and utilities and other measures are in place to assimilate these new inmates."

The just-completed 1,444 inmate beds join 970 existing beds at the Southeastern Tennessee State Regional Correctional Facility, which has taken on the Bledsoe Correctional Complex moniker. The coming expansion will bring the number of state inmate beds in Bledsoe County to 2,926, according to officials.

The expansion was not included in the original project because "the pre-planning phase began eight years ago when we were unsure if we needed those beds," TDOC Commissioner Derrick Schofield said in an email. "Today, looking at the future growth, we feel it is in the best interest [of the state] to bring those beds online.

"This will provide relief to the county jails, however, we have to look beyond just building prison beds," Schofield said. "We have to establish good community alternatives for the nonviolent offenders we are mad at so we can focus on the long-term stay of those violent offenders we are afraid of and those we want off the streets."

Infrastructure like utilities, laundry services, dining services and education facilities were designed with expansion in mind, Carter said.

If the project remains in Haslam's budget, the expansion could begin late this year and be finished in two years, she said.

The concrete cells for the just-completed prison were prefabricated at a casting facility about a half-mile away, then hauled to their location and stacked somewhat like Legos.

Officials have not determined whether they'll use the same methods for the expansion, Carter said.

about Ben Benton...

Ben Benton is a news reporter at the Chattanooga Times Free Press. He covers Southeast Tennessee and previously covered North Georgia education. Ben has worked at the Times Free Press since November 2005, first covering Bledsoe and Sequatchie counties and later adding Marion, Grundy and other counties in the northern and western edges of the region to his coverage. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Tenn., a graduate of Bradley Central High School. Benton ...

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