published Sunday, October 2nd, 2011

Grundy and Franklin County eye jail solutions

Franklin County corrections officer Quitman Spaulding observes inmates from the tower inside the Franklin County Jail. The jail opened just over a decade ago and is overcrowded.
Franklin County corrections officer Quitman Spaulding observes inmates from the tower inside the Franklin County Jail. The jail opened just over a decade ago and is overcrowded.
Photo by Tim Barber.
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  • photo
    There are three inmates in this cell designed for two at the Franklin County Jail near Winchester.
    Photo by Tim Barber /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

JAIL FACTS

• Franklin County Jail

Year occupied: 1998

Capacity: 114

Inmate population on Aug. 29: 152

• Grundy County Jail

Year occupied: 1973

Capacity: 34

Inmate population on Sept. 27: 59

Source: Tennessee Corrections Institute, county jail officials and records

  • photo
    Orange handcuffs hang near a window as Corrections Sgt. Nikki Spaulding leaves the tower inside the Franklin County Jail.
    Photo by Tim Barber /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Officials in Franklin and Grundy counties are looking to solve overcrowding and safety problems in their county jails.

The Franklin County Jail in Winchester, Tenn., is designed to house 114 inmates, but held 161 during a recent inspection, Tennessee Corrections Institute detention facilities specialist Miller Meadows said Tuesday.

Franklin County officials are working on a solution, he said.

On the other hand, Miller said, Grundy County's jail is "just a walking lawsuit waiting to happen, in my opinion."

Grundy's jail not only is overcrowded. The toilets have not been repaired, floor drains don't work and inmates sleep on the floor in every cell, he said. There are fire code and other safety problems, he said.

With the overcrowding, a fire could be a disaster, Miller said.

Grundy County commissioners on Monday discussed ideas ranging from expanding the jail or building a new one to housing all the county prisoners in other county jails, but still haven't decided on a solution, according to officials.

Franklin County Sheriff Tim Fuller said the number of pre-trial prisoners being housed in county lockups because they can't make bond contributes to overcrowding there and across the state.

"We started seeing an increase in 2008 in our jail numbers," Fuller said Thursday. Population levels keep rising because of a growing methamphetamine problem in Middle Tennessee, he said.

Fuller said officials throughout the region are working with the courts and judges to find alternatives to jail for pre-trial detainees who don't pose significant public safety threats.

Franklin County Mayor Richard Stewart said officials contracted with consultants Barge, Waggoner and Sumner for a feasibility study of solutions.

A project to answer crowding problems is "a few years away, but long-range planning always helps," Stewart said.

Grundy County Sheriff Brent Myers said last month that the inmate population has been as high as 74 recently, and it stood at 59 the day the 1973-era jail was checked by state inspectors.

"They allow us to house 34; we've got 26 beds," Myers said.

Myers said his greatest fear in the dilapidated jail is fire, and the second is the lack of a way to segregate sick or dangerous inmates.

The inspector "recommended that we move the rest of those inmates, and I don't know what's going to be the outcome of it," he said. Myers said he wasn't sure when or where they would have to be moved.

  • photo
    This two-man cell in the Franklin County Jail houses three inmates in C-Pod 3. This section of the has eight cells. Presently, all eight have at least three inmates.
    Photo by Tim Barber /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

A reinspection is scheduled for Nov. 3.

"At that time, we'll know what we've got to do," Myers said.

Grundy County Commissioner Michael Brady said he's hesitant to get behind any solution without further study because all the answers are expensive.

State officials met with commissioners last week to answer questions about the jail. Though the state could order the jail closed if they deem it unsafe, officials understand the impact of the poor economy, Brady said.

They usually allow a noncompliant jail to continue to operate "as long as we stay in compliance with their regulations and the things that they said we have to change," he said.

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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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