The regular monthly meeting of the Claiborne County Correctional Partnership Act Committee, commonly known as the Jail Committee, got a little heated near the end of the session during a discussion on certification issues.
Bill Keck, who is a Claiborne commissioner and member of the jail committee, asked why the county cannot just “ship state inmates out” like nearby Union and other counties.
Sheriff David Ray said the Union County Jail is not certified.
“If we were not certified here, they’d be jerking them out of here,” said Ray.
There is no statutory authority, Chief Deputy Wayne Lee said, for the Sheriff to send a state prisoner just anywhere at his discretion.
“The judge sentenced these people to this jail, to be held at this jail until they are removed to the penitentiary. That is the statutory scheme that we are operating under,” said Lee.
County resident Joe Brooks, who has on many occasions vocalized his displeasure with the expansion project, asked why the county does not simply let the jail certification go.
Brooks questioned how one county can get away with non-certification when Claiborne cannot.
“If we went under a court order, what do you think would happen to you as a member of the county (commission),” said Ray to those commissioners present during the meeting.
Brooks said he simply asked for clarification.
“You say an uncertified jail gets them pulled out by the state to where the state doesn’t have the recourse of getting sued for that – and it covers Union County – but, we’re certified and now we’re in fear of the county being sued from overcrowding issues, which is why we’re building a new jail,” said Brooks.
Ray asked Brooks why he wants the jail to be decertified.
“It would save us tax dollars,” said Brooks, in a seemingly incredulous tone.
Ray asked when Claiborne County has either decreased or increased its property tax rates.
A short, garbled discussion about the county tax rates ensued before a call for adjournment was quickly made and seconded.
The opening moments of the meeting seemed to set the stage for the contentious discussion to follow. Architect Peter Ludman, with Cope Associates of Knoxville, said increased construction and other costs will likely elevate the expansion project budget despite his design team’s efforts to whittle the bloated $12.1 million budget back to its original estimate of about $9.9 million.
Instead, Ludman said, his team is aiming for a budget of $10.5 million.
He said his team found areas where serious dollars could be sliced from the adjusted budget without sacrificing necessary square footage.
Ludman said about 1,500 square feet were cut from the overall floor plan, saving the county more than $300,000.
Costs, he said, were reduced by shrinking the sizes of the corridor and the control room.
Savings in excavation costs can be realized, he said, by simply re-grading the circular driveway that runs along the perimeter of the backside of the Claiborne Justice Center.
The inflated $12.1 million budget included costs for renovating entire sections where just a portion of that space would need reworking. Quite a bit of fluff was sliced by adjusting the budget to reflect renovation costs for only the necessary spaces, he said.
The jail committee members gave Ludman permission to go ahead with the redesign of maximum security cells originally conceived to hold just one inmate each. Ludman assured the committee the state mandated square footage per inmate ratio is already worked into that area of the jail plans that will easily allow for a reclassification of two inmates per cell.
The Tennessee Corrections Institute recommended the design include a couple of skylights, Ludman said.
The committee discussed the possibility of tearing down the old Rock House beside the Justice Center so that additional parking can be created.
If this happens, the full Claiborne Commission will need to opt out of a lease agreement it recently approved for the Regional Education Center.
The lease agreement allows a 60-day notice of termination.
Once the expansion project is completed, the Claiborne County Jail will hold 457 inmates, said Ludman.
Reach Jan Runions at 423-254-5588 or on Twitter @scribeCP.