Hamilton County’s Silverdale Detention Center has a new name

Staff Photo / Silverdale Detention Center, seen here in 2020, has been renamed the Hamilton County Jail.
Staff Photo / Silverdale Detention Center, seen here in 2020, has been renamed the Hamilton County Jail.

County commissioners have officially changed the name of Silverdale Detention Center to the Hamilton County Jail, which coincides with a series of improvements designed to modernize the aging facility.

"We're the fourth largest county in the state of Tennessee," Sheriff Austin Garrett said in a phone interview Wednesday. "But we're not focused on being fourth place. We want to be No. 1 in everything we do."

Garrett told the board that now is the appropriate time to make this decision, particularly as his office closes in on the completion of the ongoing expansion project that has required significant investment by the county. The vote was 10-0.

The Sheriff's Office assumed control of the detention center after the private corrections company CoreCivic officially terminated its contract at the end of 2020.

"It's part of the accountability process," Garrett told commissioners. "To rebrand something, you have to change the name. That previous name needs to be simply associated with a church and a school facility."

Previously the title for one of Hamilton County's early communities, Silverdale is also linked to a cemetery, a private Christian school and two churches — Silverdale Baptist Church and Silverdale Cumberland Presbyterian Church.

Also previously known as the county workhouse or penal farm, the facility on Standifer Gap Road has gone from a minimum- to a mid-level security facility, and it now houses a mixture of criminal offenders as well as local, state and federal detainees.

After taking over operations from CoreCivic, the Sheriff's Office moved inmates to the more remote facility from its now-shuttered downtown jail.

The county has invested approximately $32 million into the detention center, which includes various physical improvements to the facility plus hundreds of new cameras that replaced aging and inadequate equipment. Coverage has historically been spotty because many cameras were broken or antiquated, Garrett said in a phone call.

"The state-of-the art camera system we have now was carefully laid out by our staff to try to capture every area within that facility," he said.

Garrett expects a new booking and intake facility, temporary holding cells, 125 new beds, a new public entrance and new administrative offices will be complete by the end of the year.

Even with the work being done, there's inherent difficulties associated with operating a jail, which Garrett said includes addressing damage done by inmates to plumbing and lighting.

"The inmates have nothing but time on their hands," Garrett said. "I don't know of any inmate in that facility who wants to be there. ... We're always working against the creative minds and ingenuity of those we have incarcerated."

Those issues are compounded by the fact that the detention center staff members have to accept every prisoner brought to them. There are approximately 1,100 inmates at the jail. Many of them are struggling with substance abuse or mental health issues, the sheriff said.

"We don't control the population — the numbers," he said. "We work with our partners in the judicial system to try to mitigate that," which can be through alternative release programs.

Garrett said Wednesday afternoon he's already read several dismissive comments about the decision, but he stressed that the name change isn't superficial.

"It's inclusive of the physical plant, it's inclusive of the people that we house there, it's inclusive of the employees who work there, and it's inclusive of the level of service we provide there," he said. "It's the entire operation. To me, a name is very important."

Hamilton County Commissioner Warren Mackey, D-Lake Vista, told Garrett he appreciates the name change.

"However, I do feel like the old name — that had the term 'workhouse' associated with it — I like that," he said. "I think people need to understand there is a right, there is a wrong and if you do wrong, you're going to get punished."

Contact David Floyd at dfloyd@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6249.

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