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An inmate and his visitor talk during a scheduled visitation at the Hamilton County Jail.

The need for a new Hamilton County Jail is not new, but the facility's age and space should not keep inmates there from receiving humane treatment.

No one at the jail, not even the worst criminals, should have to go without a bed, shower, toilet paper or toothbrush. Currently, that is the state of things for some at the six-story Walnut Street building because it is over capacity and has been for years, according to a report by Times Free Press reporter Shelly Bradbury.

Sheriff Jim Hammond is aware of conditions there and has been apprising the Hamilton County Commission of the need for some time. A 2013 study found 55 new positions were needed to meet appropriate staffing levels. A 2015 Tennessee Corrections Institute inspection noted the jail did not meet state minimum standards because of low staffing and overcrowding.

Earlier this year, the County Commission voted to seek a private company to build a new jail. But that — the process of locating a spot for and erecting a new building — will take several years.

In the meantime, understaffed jailers say they are doing the best they can by relying on emergency hires, training new corrections officers and getting inmates to beds — and off the first floor, which was designed as a temporary holding area — as soon as possible.

The county does have an agreement with the Corrections Corporation of America to house certain inmates at the Silverdale Correctional Facility. If it didn't, as of last week, the 40-year-old jail would have been 66.3 percent over capacity.

If the main problem at the jail is supplies, perhaps Hammond could make a "one of the least of these" appeals for cots, toilet paper, baby wipes (if a shower is not possible) and toothbrushes to nonprofits, churches and individuals.

If it's staffing, perhaps Hammond could prepare a report for the County Commission showing how a bigger budget doesn't keep up with the needs of an aging facility and a workforce that has a relatively fast turnover.

If the County Commission is dubious about how Hammond is spending the county's money, it should demand such a report.

Going to jail is not supposed to be like going to a resort, and working at the jail amid people who don't want to be there or are convinced they don't belong there is no picnic, either. But inmates deserve better than long waits to be clean or get adequate sleep, and jailers are entitled to working conditions that don't leave them understaffed and overstressed.

Surely, until a new jail is built, there are common-sense strategies that can be employed that will alleviate these problems.

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