Members of the Hamilton County grand jury say they are “astounded at the amount of testimony we heard that involved repeat, multiple offenders from our communities.” Current grand jury members “agree with past grand juries that Tennessee sentencing laws need to be changed to increase the level and length of incarceration for repeat offenders to these courts.”
The following is a letter addressed to Criminal Court Judge Rebecca Stern:
Honorable Rebecca Stern, Judge
Criminal Court, Division II
Hamilton County, Tennessee
Dear Judge Stern,
The members of the Regular Grand Jury wish to express our gratitude and appreciation for this opportunity to serve on the Grand Jury these past several months. Through this experience we have realized the importance of serving our community in the judicial environment. We end this term with a greater perspective of our judicial system, the chronic crime difficulties facing our communities, and the overwhelming job our law enforcement faces every day.
We were astounded at the amount of testimony we heard that involved repeat, multiple offenders from our communities. It is very evident that their frequent arrests and occasional incarceration does not seem to impact their behavior. We agree with past Grand Juries that TN Sentencing Laws need to be changed to increase level and length of incarceration for repeat offenders to these courts. We also urge Judges to give maximum amount of penalties to these criminals. They are responsible to the citizens of this community to keep these offenders from continuing the repetition of their crimes.
We fully support the efforts of the TN Public Safety Coalition to strengthen the laws and punishment for repeat violent offenders and others. We strongly agree with their proposed legislation regarding the elimination of parole, ensuring that State criminals serve at least 85 percent of their sentence, and urge the passage of such legislation as soon as possible.
As jurors, we do not pretend to be experts on any level of the judiciary system. We feel that our 4-month term of hearing testimony on the crimes committed in our communities, as well as our tours of the Hamilton County penal facilities , has given us a broader insight into our criminal justice system , which has led to the following observations and opinions regarding those facilities we are charged with reporting on this term.
HAMILTON COUNTY JAIL
As stated before in many Grand Jury reports - Hamilton County needs a new jail! As we were visiting the jail, we were impressed by the cleanliness of such an old and dilapidated facility. The staff needs to be commended on the upkeep of this task. We did find that more staffing would be beneficial to meet the needs of this current facility.
The improvements that are being made in lighting the 6th floor cell areas and updated camera systems have been very beneficial and much needed. We hope that this effort will be continued in all areas of the jail. The medical facility takes on a tremendous responsibility and in our opinion is being used adequately. The new finger-printing machine is a tremendous improvement and allows our community to be better informed of repeat offenders in a quick moment.
In previous reports the Grand Jury has continued to find the jail in an overcrowded condition. Additionally, we agree and found the jail in this same condition. We are disappointed with elected county officials that they haven’t taken the time to tour the entire jail. It is our opinion that elected officials should be required to visit all penal institutions in the County during their term of office.
We found the staff to be very knowledgeable about the facility and upbeat, even though the building is in dire need of improvements. They are to be praised for the challenging job they encounter daily.
The contraband display was very educational and somewhat unbelievable. We found the chapel that displayed inmates’ artwork to be a positive environment in such a neglected facility.
JUVENILE JUSTICE CENTER
Once again, as stated in past Grand Jury reports, Hamilton County is in desperate need of a Juvenile Correctional Facility. We strongly recommend that the TN General Assembly approve such a facility for Hamilton County in the very near future.
We agree with past Grand Jury reports and their findings in regard to this facility. There is an obvious need for more staff, especially probation officers, due to caseload amounts.
We do have an additional concern and wish to bring attention to the medical liability that the Juvenile Center may be incurring. We are concerned about the prisoners’ medications, as well as possible liability problems for this facility. We learned that there is no medically licensed official on the facility’s staff to dispense medication. Our concern is for the individuals detained at this facility and the responsibility the county has to provide proper medical attention to these individuals. We were very alarmed that juvenile individuals are allowed to bring their own medication into the facility without clearance from a doctor or medically licensed official. In our opinion, funding for a medical staff position should be provided immediately.
Again we do encourage all elected officials to visit this County Facility!
COMMENTS & RECOMMENDATIONS
Like all the past Grand Juries, we also concur with the comments and recommendations made in prior Grand Jury reports. Details of those credible observations can be found in earlier reports.
We would like to add our observation that several police officers obviously need some remedial help in writing their reports --- with an emphasis on clear, legible handwriting!
Respectfully submitted by the
Members of the Regular Grand Jury,
Marsha Crabtree, foreman