PIKEVILLE, Tenn. — The old Bledsoe County Jail is back in business.
Jailers were hired, repairs are made and two arrestees late last month became the first prisoners in the jail since it was closed last May, Sheriff Jimmy Morris said.
“We have eight today,” Sheriff Morris said last week. The state allowed the jail to reopen with up to 11 inmates and allowed the facility to set up a “fire watch” to take the place of a sprinkler system, he said.
Jail Administrator Jaclyn Walker, one of four new hires, said manning the fire watch is challenging.
“It’s time-consuming,” she said. Jailers patrol every 15 minutes, she said, and the walk-through takes five to 10 minutes.
But officials say the fire watch is better than paying an estimated $200,000 for a sprinkler system that won’t be needed in a year, when a new jail is expected to open.
The county was reviewing plans for a new jail when state fire officials visited last May and cited numerous deficiencies. County officials said the repairs were too costly for a jail already too old and small, so they shut down the building and sent inmates to neighboring counties.
But officials in Rhea and Sequatchie counties said in December that they were too crowded to keep helping, forcing Bledsoe to use the old jail until the new one is built.
Meanwhile, the 10 to 15 prisoners held in Overton County at $35 a day each are a continuing cost, County Mayor Gregg Ridley said.
Mr. Ridley said a public input session on the new jail last week drew questions about size, staffing and maintenance costs.
Mr. Ridley said the Tennessee Corrections Institute recommended 17 jailers — at an estimated cost of $340,000 a year — to staff the justice center for two 12-hour shifts a day, year round. The four new hires boosted the original staff to nine, he said, but that still leaves a potential need for 13 more to meet state guidelines.
Officials have discussed following Sequatchie County’s example of offsetting operational costs by filling the new jail’s unused beds with state prisoners at $35 a day.
The County Commission will have to review bids for 60-, 80-, 100- and 120-bed jails and decide on the best design before construction can start, Mr. Ridley said.
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 ...