ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
Bradley County Sheriff Eric Watson speaks during the opening of the Brian K. Smith Inmate Workhouse on Thursday, July 27, in Cleveland, Tenn. The new inmate workhouse allows low-security inmates the opportunity to work in the community while still serving their time.

Bradley County (Tenn.) Sheriff Eric Watson's request to move money from deputy salaries and equipment to supply jail inmates with towels, soap and bunks set off a lively discussion in the county commission's finance committee Monday.

Watson asked to shift around $36,000 within his department budget after the jail failed a surprise inspection by the Tennessee Corrections Institute last month.

That Feb. 22 inspection found inmates crammed into what are supposed to be temporary holding cells, with no hygiene or bathing supplies, no uniforms and limited access to showers. The inspectors also found inmates sleeping on concrete floors along with broken showers, sinks, and toilets; a kitchen with broken equipment and water standing in the floor; and a leaking roof in one cell.

The sheriff wanted to move $23,082.88 from jail deputy salaries to buy mattresses, blankets and stackable beds so inmates wouldn't have to sleep on the floor, and another $1,000 to install stainless steel on the wall in a washroom off the kitchen where constant humidity has left a brown stain on a wall.

Commissioners Dan Rawls and Thomas Crye, who have been highly critical of Watson, grilled his finance director, Cassandra Stone, about why the money was needed now. The jail spent weeks and thousands of dollars last year to fix the same problems cited in the most recent inspection. And maintenance money is built into the sheriff's office budget, Rawls said.

"Why all of a sudden are we in the situation we're where we have to move this money?" he asked. He said the commission has put about $1 million extra in the sheriff's budget over the past three and a half years.

"We seem to have as many or more problems now than we did then," Rawls said.

Stone said the inspectors called for the stackable beds, which cost $600 apiece. Inmates tear up mattresses, pillows and blankets, and wear and tear on equipment and fixtures in the continually overcrowded jail is constant.

Crye picked up on that, noting Watson had blamed overcrowding on a backlog of state inmates.

Watson last week said the Tennessee Department of Correction had ignored many pleas from Bradley County to come get its prisoners. Correction Department spokeswoman Neysa Taylor said that wasn't true and there weren't any unfulfilled requests for transport in the department's files.

Taylor said sheriffs are allowed, at their discretion, to house state prisoners with sentences under three years and be paid $39 per day each.

"We have overfilled on state prisoners, and the consequence is our citizens that are arrested are placed in holding cells with no clothes," Crye said. He noted that some of the jail population is people awaiting trial who haven't been convicted of anything.

"The damn dogs and cats over at the SPCA get treated better than that," Crye said.

Commissioner Charlotte Peak, who has supported the sheriff, nearly cheered, saying Crye had "come over to the dark side with me" on the need for decent prisoner treatment.

Crye and Rawls also criticized taking the money from a salary line item.

Noting that a previous inspection slammed the jail for being short on personnel, Crye said, "One of the causes of all these problems is we were understaffed over there."

Stone said the money was available in the salary line because of a lag caused by turnover. Finance Chairman Milan Blake said repeatedly the department had to pay salaries all the way through June, the end of the fiscal year, but Stone assured him she was confident there was enough money.

Rawls asked for a list of everyone who is paid from the jail budget and whether they actually work in the jail.

He and Crye were on the losing end of the 3-2 vote to shift the money. Blake, Peak and Commissioner Mike Hughes voted for the move.

The result was the same when Stone asked to move money from the salary line to buy law enforcement equipment, but the group agreed to delay the $1,000 request until the next finance meeting.

She explained she had used money from the equipment line item to order beds and prisoner supplies. Now she wanted to refill the law enforcement equipment line from jail deputy salaries, again assuring commissioners there would be enough money in the account to make payroll until the end of the year.

"Coming back and asking for more money in that line item, that's not going to happen," Blake warned.

Contact staff writer Judy Walton at jwalton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6416.

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT