Opinion: Budgetel had to be closed but Silverdale is fine?

Staff file photo / A van arrives at Silverdale Detention Center in Chattanooga in 2020.
Staff file photo / A van arrives at Silverdale Detention Center in Chattanooga in 2020.

We noticed last week that Hamilton County District Attorney Coty Wamp, who said she couldn't unsee and couldn't unsmell some the things she saw at the Budgetel Inn when she carried East Ridge's petition for closure to Criminal Court Judge Boyd Patterson, might need glasses.

Why? Because last Thursday she argued in Criminal Court Judge Barry Steelman's courtroom against a request (backed up with video) from a Silverdale Detention Center inmate to transfer to a clean and dry state prison facility that would provide him with the basic necessities of humane conditions.

Whoa -- before you go off on, "wait, he's in jail, and jail's not supposed to be a picnic, or even home," -- hear us out.

The inmate, a local 21-year-old who's been awaiting trial here for more than two years since being accused of the shooting death of an 18-year-old at a gas station on Dodds Avenue, shares with another inmate a tiny cell with a leaking ceiling and wet floor -- 23 hours a day.

There is mold, he testified. The shower doesn't drain, he testified. He has one jumpsuit that only gets washed once a month. And when he requests his own cleaning supplies, they are ignored, he testified. Yes, there is laundry hanging on strings in the cell. Yes, there are empty food containers. If no one is collecting the trash, where's it going to go?

His attorney, Brandy Spurgin-Floyd, says, "We're not asking for bond, we're not asking for house arrest, we're asking for ... [a transfer] to a facility that will provide him with the basic necessities."

DA Wamp, who previously worked for the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office when it took over Silverdale, argued: "The state is here on behalf of the jail to say that it is sufficient. There's nothing to hide about the conditions of the jail."

Besides, she said, things couldn't be all that bad since the inmate had access to a touch-screen tablet for movies, books and calls.

Let's review: The Budgetel -- complete with TV, lights to read books and phones -- was a filthy, unsafe place filled, according to Wamp and East Ridge police, with people engaged in crime. Therefore it had to be closed -- and closed in four hours.

Silverdale, on the other hand, with leaking ceilings, showers that won't drain, uncollected trash and mold that one can't escape but for one hour a day wearing clothes that can be washed only once a month, is fine.

We were not big fans of former Hamilton County District Attorney Neal Pinkston, but at least Pinkston went on the record near the end of his term to note that Silverdale was, in his view, "one of the most dangerous places to be in our county."

And it would seem it isn't dangerous simply because of the people inside, but also because of the apparent neglect to the physical facility.

We have to wonder just how far and into what bizarre pretzels our law enforcement and criminal justice leaders must twist themselves to ignore seeing what seems to be both dangerous and inhumane conditions at Silverdale Detention Center.

But, then, we must acknowledge that no one makes glasses that give any of us that particular kind of introspective hindsight and insight.