In the workhouse: Bradley County, Tenn., officials tout opening of new inmate facilityView 9 Photos
In a few short days, dozens of nonviolent offenders in the Bradley County Jail will transition into a newly opened part of the facility — the Brian K. Smith Inmate Workhouse.
Officials hope the 128-bed, low-security building will help relieve perennial overcrowding issues at the Tennessee jail and give qualified offenders the opportunity to continue supporting themselves and their families while serving time for small charges. Workers broke ground on the project in July 2016.
"After 14 1/2 years, here is the culmination of a lot of hard work," said Rick Kienlen, misdemeanor probation director, during a Thursday morning unveiling of the facility. "Now the real work begins."
Inmates housed in the new $3.1 million facility will be able to leave on a daily basis to work in the community at businesses validated by jail officials and will readmit themselves by the time of their set curfew each night.
Brian Smith, chief deputy of the Bradley County Sheriff's Office and the man for whom the new facility is named, said it would allow individuals serving time on minor charges to maintain some continuity in their lives.
"This is where you're actually going out and working in the community," he said.
And in the event they fail to report back at the end of work, Smith said they'll be dealt with in short order.
"We'll pursue them, and they'll go back into the general population," he said.
The Times Free Press previously reported on the issue of overcrowding at the Bradley County Jail that has plagued officials for years. When the county commission's law enforcement committee met on June 13, the jail had 408 beds and more than 520 inmates.
The facility's director, former Sheriff Dan Gilley, had just resigned in despair, saying overcrowding, understaffing and a laundry list of maintenance problems made it unlikely the jail would get a passing grade from Tennessee Corrections Institute inspectors.
Smith said he believes the workhouse will help, but with about 7,400 unserved warrants stacked up and more coming in every day, it won't be enough to end the problem, committee members and sheriff's department officials agreed last month.
Serving as superintendent of the facility is Lt. Allan Walsh, who gave a tour to members of the media and local officials after the news conference. The inmates will eat, sleep and bathe in large, longhouse-style rooms that can house several dozen men.
Walsh said they can group so many together and even allow them to keep personal items, such as razors or normal clothes, because of the nature of their offenses, which are often child support violations or intoxicated driving offenses.
"We don't expect any problems over here," he said.
Inmates will be supervised and jail staff will conduct check-ins every 30 minutes to ensure everyone is accounted for and medically healthy, but the atmosphere will be different than that of the main jail.
Walsh said there will be anywhere from eight to 15 people who work there, but staff will be shared between the facilities. That handful of staff members will handle the comings and goings of their inmates, referring to a whiteboard outside the rooms that will show when the men are scheduled to leave.
"This will show who gets up at what time and when they need to report back," Walsh said, gesturing to the board. "Our staff will be busiest in the morning when most of the inmates are leaving."
Bradley County Sheriff Eric Watson, who was himself booked into the jail on July 21 on six counts of knowingly holding or using forged or falsified car titles, spoke briefly at Thursday's news conference to congratulate staff involved in its creation, but declined a request for an interview afterward.
Contact staff writer Emmett Gienapp at email@example.com or 423-757-6731. Follow him on Twitter @emmettgienapp.