(Writer’s note: A letter from the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance – Office of Legal Counsel (TDCI-OLC) has surfaced in which certain points regarding the proposed Claiborne County Jail expansion project are clarified. The clarifications are in response to previous correspondence from the TDCI to Circuit Court Judge John McAfee.)
The Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance – Office of Legal Counsel (TDCI-OLC) has sent a clarification letter to Claiborne Sheriff David Ray regarding previous TDCI correspondence sent to Circuit Court Judge John McAfee.
Details of the McAfee response letter were published, in part, in the June 29 issue of the Claiborne Progress.
That letter refers to Tennessee Codes Annotated (TCA) §41-4-140 when concluding that the Tennessee Corrections Institute (TCI) has no authority to enforce any deficiencies or infractions the Institute might find in the course of jail inspections.
The letter to Ray states that TDCI did not want Claiborne County officials to interpret the previous information in an adverse way when dealing with the overcrowding situation at the jail.
The Ray letter says all local jurisdictions have a duty under TCA §5-7-104 and TCA §5-7-106 to erect a courthouse, jail, and other necessary county buildings and are required to keep those facilities in order and repair at the expense of the county. According to the statutes, the legislative body of the county may levy a special tax for this purpose.
The letter states that Claiborne County upheld this legal duty and obligation when officials submitted a plan of action to the Tennessee Corrections Institute Board of Control.
In that plan of action, the county outlined the expansion and improvements of the existing facility to relieve current and future overcrowding.
Correctional facilities and inmate care are typically the highest liability enterprise any local government entity requires. As a result of Claiborne officials’ progressive thinking, the letter states that the county decided to take the necessary steps to reduce legal liability by making improvements and expanding the existing correctional facility.
According to the letter, TCI highly supports this decision.
On June 1, Claiborne County officials submitted their expansion plan to the TCI Board of Control. The board accepted the plan of action. Should any deviation or modification of this plan occur, the letter states that the deviation would void approval of the plan based upon a violation of the terms accepted by the Control Board.
If the terms of the Plan of Action are violated, the letter says it would result in the non-certification of the jail, subjecting the county to increased exposure to legal liability.
The letter quotes court rulings supporting this finding.
Brock v. Warren County, 713 F. Supp. 238, 243 (E.D. Tenn. 1989) effectively holds a county liable for the commissions’ failure to provide sufficient funds for a habitable jail or training of guards.
The case of Marsh v. Butler County, 268 F. 3d 1014, 1027 (11th Cir. 2001) apparently finds the County in violation of the plaintiffs’ Eighth Amendment rights if its failure to maintain the Jail constituted deliberate indifference to a substantial risk of serious harm to the prisoners.
The letter spells out two goals of the TCI in recommending actions by facilities: The first goal is to reduce liability and the amount of tax payer money paid in judgments. The second goal is to increase safety to staff, inmates and/or the community.
Maintaining crowded or substandard jails, workhouses and correctional facilities is fraught with issues of liability. Therefore, anything that can reduce a county or city’s exposure at a reasonable price is a decision well made, according to the letter.
If a government body spends a million dollars on upgrades and improvements to a jail that avoids a $50 million judgment in the future against the taxpayers, the decision is an economic one, the Ray letter states.
The letter ends by asking that the previous correspondence of legal authority and parameters not be interpreted as a limitation on the county.
The Tennessee Corrections Institute is a resource to every jail and workhouse in this state and available to provide sound strategies and training in the field of corrections. TCI provides guidance from nationally approved associations and training facilities with their only goal being to assist county and city resources, avoiding or reducing the liability associated with inmates.
While statutorily TCI cannot mandate actions on local jurisdictions, they can make sound suggestions, provide resources and guidance needed to save money and reduce liability, as well as provide any county of Tennessee a solid foundation to provide for the safety and security of their community, the Ray letter states.
The McAfee response letter points out that several jails have never passed a TCI inspection and choose to move forward with business without ever achieving compliance.
This is completely their decision and TCI has no authority to force them to accept TCI guidelines, according to the McAfee letter addressed in the article in the June 29 issue of the Claiborne Progress.
Reach Jan Runions at 423-254-5588 or on Twitter @scribeCP