Bradley County jail given more time to fix ongoing health and sanitation issues

File Photo by Angela Lewis/Chattanooga Times Free Press Dec 5, 2013— The Bradley County Jail is in Cleveland, Tenn.

Tennessee officials who reinspected the Bradley County Jail this month kept its certification in place despite a closed-down kitchen, some cells with no running water and a shortage of functional toilets, and chronic overcrowding.

After his Oct. 6 reinspection, Tennessee Corrections Institute inspector William R. Kane commended Sheriff Eric Watson, Corrections Capt. Gabe Thomas and jail staff for "correcting the operational deficiencies within their control" after the jail flunked its August annual inspection.

For instance, Kane wrote, the booking area is no longer being used for housing, the booking and inmate areas have been cleaned, showers, sinks and toilets repaired in some areas and lights cleaned, repaired or replaced.

He noted the jail is now documenting that inmates are receiving clothing, bedding and bathing supplies, and that hourly security checks are being conducted on a consistent basis and the observations are properly logged.

Kane also noted "the suicide observation and restraint chair checks are now being conducted within the specified time parameters." The Aug. 15 inspection report said those checks were not being conducted at the specified times and the observations were "very vague."

Barely a month after the August inspection, burglary suspect Ralph Nelms hanged himself in a glass-fronted cell in the jail's booking area. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is looking into Nelms' death.

Kane noted that "most of the remaining deficiencies" are caused by "continued overcrowding" - he said the average daily head count is 23 percent over capacity - and a "shortage of staff at times" to operate the facility.

Overcrowding is a constant problem in many area jails. The Bradley jail problem was so bad in August that Thomas, the corrections captain, texted local law enforcement on the 18th not to bring anyone they had arrested in for booking because there was no room for them. Thomas told one person that officers who brought people for booking "will be sitting in their cars" waiting for space to open up in the jail.

Kane's report noted that Bradley County has broken ground on a 127-bed workhouse that will free up bed space in the jail. The workhouse is expected to open in April.

But despite the cleaning and painting, Kane noted ongoing health and sanitation shortcomings that must be corrected.

"There are several cells throughout all the housing areas that do not have access to hot or cold running water in their sinks. Several toilets are in need of repair as well. The facility toilet & sink ratio is not in compliance in the B, C, D, G, H and M, housing areas. This is due to several toilet and sinks in the two man cells needing [to be] repaired in all of these areas.

"The entire food service area has had all the equipment, floor tiles, and a large portion of wall boards removed from the area for renovation [and to] resolve all maintenance issues."

He said a cold food menu for inmates approved Sept. 1 will stay in place until the kitchen repairs are completed at the end of October.

Kane said that to retain the jail's certification, the sheriff's office must submit a plan of action to fix the health and sanitation problems to the TCI's Board of Control on Dec. 7.

The sheriff's office released a statement saying the repairs are continuing.

In the statement, Chief Deputy Brian Smith said that he and Thomas "recognize the importance" of the jail keeping its certification and "immediately drafted a plan" to address problems after the Aug. 15 inspection.

"The Plan of Action submitted in December will list the majority of the deficient items as corrected and have a completion date for those that are still in process," he said.