The latest state inspection of the Bradley County Jail shows a host of problems from last year have been resolved and overcrowding of male prisoners has eased since a 100-bed workhouse expansion opened in July.
The number of female inmates is still above capacity, but the jail will keep its certification if the Tennessee Corrections Institute board approves an updated plan of action at its Dec. 6 meeting, according to a Nov. 8 letter from TCI Executive Director Beth Ashe to Sheriff Eric Watson.
The Nov. 7 inspection report cited two deficiencies: The 89 female inmates put the women's unit at 35 percent above capacity, and floors and walls in all nine inmate pods need to be painted or sealed because of peeling paint that makes them difficult to clean.
By comparison, the 2016 inspection found overcrowding so severe male inmates were being housed in holding cells for weeks or months, sleeping on the floors. Inspectors could not find documentation inmates were issued uniforms, mattresses and supplies.
Last year, the jail was certified for 408 inmates but housing 558 during its annual inspection. Overcrowding and understaffing is a chronic problem in most area jails, not just Bradley County's.
Read the latest Tennessee Corrections Institute inspection of the Bradley County Jail at timesfreepress.com.
The inspection report in 2016 noted that many toilets, sinks and showers in the inmate areas were broken. The areas were molding and filthy, many of the lights were out, and the doors and windows were broken. There were broken floor tiles and standing water in the kitchen area, with trash piled up and blocking the doors, and no documentation that kitchen utensils, supplies and chemicals were being inventoried on a regular basis.relatedarticlethumb
After three inmates died in 2016, including one who hanged himself in a glass-windowed holding cell in full view of sheriff's office employees, TCI inspectors slammed the jail staff for failing to properly document hourly security checks of prisoners and of the suicide-watch and restraint chair area. Three corrections officers have been charged with official misconduct and one faces additional charges of tampering with evidence and records in the suicide.
The TCI required the jail to submit a plan of action to fix those problems or risk losing certification.
As of June, the man in charge of getting the jail ready to pass its 2017 inspection quit because he didn't think it could be done.
Dan Gilley, a longtime sheriff, wrote in his resignation letter: "After receiving a conditional certification by TCI in December that was based on completing much work in the housing area that remains undone, the odds are we will not be certified for 2017-18."relatedarticlethumb
He wrote that the three people on the maintenance staff "have performed miracles" with the budget they had, but added, "It is a plain and simple fact that this facility was not designed to operate safely and securely with only a little over one-half of the staff it needs."
The jail's authorized corrections staff is 92, but as of Aug. 1, 2016, only 67 positions were filled, Times Free Press archives show. That number was boosted to 83 in November 2016 and remained steady in the latest report.
Meanwhile, the workhouse expansion that opened in July raised the jail's capacity to 506, and the inmate count was 540 during the Nov. 7 inspection.
The latest report says the sinks, toilets, showers and lights have been repaired, along with the kitchen. Staff is up to date on paperwork documenting supplies given to inmates, security checks and training. The jail staff also has complied with a requirement to do consistent inventories of firearms, Tasers, chemicals, and kitchen equipment and supplies.
In a statement, Watson lauded jail chief Capt. Gabe Thomas and the correction staff "for their dedication and hard work to accomplish this year's certification."
He said the report "provides documented evidence to the community that our jail is operated efficiently and effectively."
He also noted the jail passed an earlier inspection this year by the U.S. Marshal's Office, required because the sheriff's office has a contract to house up to 100 federal prisoners.
Bradley County Commissioner Jeff Yarber, head of the commission's law enforcement committee, said the much-improved inspection report is good news. Commissioners voted in November 2016 to keep a closer eye on jail maintenance and staffing.
"At the end of the day the buck stops with us," Yarber said Friday. "You've got to be careful not to micromanage an elected official, but you do have oversight."
He said Thomas gave him a walk-through of the ongoing work at the jail a couple of months ago.
"He showed me what they were doing to clean and paint," Yarber said. "He assured me they had been working with the state and everything would be up to par and they would have no trouble passing inspection."
Contact staff writer Judy Walton at email@example.com or 423-757-6416.relatedarticlethumb