State inspection of Bradley County Jail reveals deficiencies caused by overcrowding, understaffing

State inspection of Bradley County Jail reveals deficiencies caused by overcrowding, understaffing

June 26th, 2019 by Rosana Hughes in Breaking News

Several deficiencies were noted in a state inspection of the Bradley County Jail last week, most of which were caused by consistent inmate overcrowding and staff shortages, according to a report from the Tennessee Corrections Institute.

The jail is certified for 510 beds. But on June 20, the population was at 527 inmates, 137 of whom were state inmates. (The Tennessee Department of Correction compensates counties for housing its prisoners at about $39 per day.)

While still overcrowded, that's an improvement from when Sheriff Steve Lawson took office in September 2018, when there were 581 inmates.

Document: Report on Bradley County Jail inspection

Read a redacted report on the Tennessee Corrections Institute's inspection of Bradley County Jail.

"Since September 1st I have consistently asked the Department of Corrections to take back some of these state inmates to help alleviate our overcrowding problems, and those requests have fallen on deaf ears," Lawson said in a statement Tuesday. "I do not understand how the state of Tennessee can refuse to take their own inmates, while at the same time docking us negatively on an inspection for having too many of them. This continues to be a problem that I hope will be addressed in the future, otherwise, our overcrowding will simply continue."

Officials checked 14 categories when inspecting the jail, according to the report. Only three of the 14 passed inspection with "no deficiencies."

At least 26 problems were noted overall. It's not clear exactly how many because the entire "security" category has been redacted. Other redactions include deficiencies found with booking, food services and with the supervision of inmates.

Corrections institute spokesman Kevin Walters said the information was redacted because Tennessee law states "information and records that are directly related to the security of any government building shall be maintained as confidential and shall not be open to public inspection."

He did not clarify how booking information and food services relate to building security. Walters said the sheriff could provide redacted information if he chose to.

While the information on the supervision of inmates is redacted in the report, the sheriff's office statement noted the inspection found that "officer staffing levels are at 65 of 100 available positions."

"This number is not sufficient to perform and maintain the daily security functions of the facility," the statement reads. "This is evident by the number of deficiencies listed in the report that are directly related to the officers not being present and or able to perform these functions."

"When you have only one officer responsible for 2 or 3 pods at the time, things are unfortunately going to get missed," Lawson said. "Bottom line, we have to get to a proper staffing level if we ever hope to achieve better results."

Some other notable, unredacted deficiencies include:

» Suicide, special observation and restraint chair checks are not being conducted on a consistent basis.

» Criminal history checks are not being done prior to inmates being placed in general population — most are being conducted two days after.

» The inmate disciplinary process is not being conducted within the time parameters and/or the documentation is not being filled out on a consistent basis.

» The daily meals log isn't filled out on a consistent basis.

» The inmate recreation log showing that inmates are allowed one hour per day of physical exercise outside their cells is not being filled out on a consistent basis.

Several cells were in need of repairs, including replacing glass in several cell doors and in an outside window to a cell. At least two toilets needed repairs, and the lights needed to be fixed in at least three cells.

Roof and shower leaks were noted in two separate cells, and a sink was missing a handle in another.

Despite the deficiencies, inspectors noted Sheriff Steve Lawson and his staff were "very professional during the Team Inspection and are to be commended on the cleanness of the facility."

Lawson said he is working with the Bradley County Commission to address corrections staff salaries. He has also requested funding for additional corrections officers in the next budget, he said.

"Is it still where we need to be, no," Lawson said. "But it is a much-needed step in the right direction."

Officials will re-inspect the jail on Aug. 15. If the sheriff is unable to resolve the noted deficiencies and reduce the population by the re-inspection date, an approved plan of action to improve conditions will be required to maintain certification, the report states.

"We have already begun to take steps to address several of the maintenance and documentation issues listed in the inspection, and will be ready on August 15th," Lawson said in the statement. "While I am pleased with the improvements that have been made thus far, it is obvious that we have more work to do. Rome was not built in a day, and I am grateful for the team in Corrections, who with me, are committed to getting better each day."

Contact Rosana Hughes at rhughes@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6327 with tips or story ideas. Follow her on Twitter @HughesRosana.