published Friday, July 1st, 2011

Bledsoe jail state-certified for first time in history

Prisoners sit in the common area of one of the cell blocks in the new Bledsoe County Detention Center in Pikeville, Tenn.
Prisoners sit in the common area of one of the cell blocks in the new Bledsoe County Detention Center in Pikeville, Tenn.
Photo by John Rawlston /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

BY THE NUMBERS


• 96: Number of beds

• 76: Jail population on day of inspection

• 53: Average daily population

• 9: Staff positions created for new facility

• 15: Hires since last inspection

• $878,900: Annual jail budget

• June 8, 2011: Date of state certification

Source: Tennessee Corrections Institute

Bledsoe County has a state-certified jail for the first time in its history.

“We’re very tickled,” Sheriff Jimmy Morris said. The road to a new jail was an “uphill battle” for the county, but the $7.4 million Bledsoe County Detention Center will meet needs for years to come, he said.

“It’s taken a lot of hard work and lot of dedication from the jail administrator and the jailers,” Morris said.

State certification means Bledsoe can receive the full rate for housing state prisoners, $35 a day, which will help offset operational costs.

“It appears it will generate about three-quarters of a million dollars a year, depending on how many state prisoners we average,” Morris said.

On Wednesday, the detention center held 81 prisoners, including 64 state prisoners, jail officials said.

Morris said 64 state prisoners generate $2,240 a day. Maintaining that number for a year could produce more than $800,000 in revenue.

State certification is never guaranteed because it carries a number of requirements, according to Peggy Sawyer, interim executive director of the Tennessee Corrections Institute.

Bledsoe Inspection Letter
Bledsoe Inspection Letter
Bledsoe Inspection Report
Bledsoe Inspection Report

“To my knowledge, they have never been certified, and I’ve been with TCI since 1994,” Sawyer said.

TCI was founded in 1974, she said. Before that, the state Correction Department inspected county jails.

Bledsoe’s path to a new jail started in 2007, when a visit from state fire officials in May led to the closure of the 1850s-era jail on Frazier Street.

Officials wrestled with plans and designs while inmates were held in other counties. The state allowed the old lockup to reopen temporarily in 2008 to hold 11 prisoners while the county worked toward a new jail.

Unlike the former jail’s inspection reports, which contained long lists of comments, shortcomings and violations, the first report on the new facility noted simply that it’s not overcrowded. Otherwise, TCI detention facility specialist Joe Ferguson’s report was blank in every space where findings are listed.

Ferguson stated the certification “will be the first time in 150 years.”

The work done to ready the jail for certification showed “Morris and detention staff are proud and dedicated to this new facility,” he said.

Morris said the key now is to take care of the jail.

“It’ll be a constant challenge to do this, but it’s something you can’t drop,” he said. “It shouldn’t be a problem as long as maintenance is kept up.”

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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