The state has told Bedford County it wants a plan of action towards alleviating overcrowding at the county jail, and current state officials say previous officials should not have raised the jail's rated capacity some years back.
The state has asked county commissioners and law enforcement to attend a meeting on Dec. 5, and will also make a presentation at the January county commission meeting.
The jail issue was reported during Tuesday night's meeting of Bedford County Board of Commissioners' law enforcement committee.
Tennessee Corrections Institute is the arm of state government which certifies and regulates local jails. During Clay Parker's term as sheriff and Dan Brooks' term as jail administrator, TCI increased the jail's rated capacity from its original 68 to 110 based on additional bunks.
But TCI officials now say that was a mistake. They say that, based on the jail's square footage, its rated capacity should still be 68.
The actual population of the jail right now is about 170, according to discussion Tuesday night, but about 60 of those are felons which the county is keeping on the state's behalf.
The state ignores those state inmates when deciding whether a jail is overpopulated, considering only locally-sentenced misdemeanor inmates. That leaves the jail with a population of 110, right at what had been its rated capacity. With the rated capacity dropping back to 68, the jail is now considered overcrowded.
The state hasn't yet decertified the jail, since it was the state's mistake that caused the capacity to change. But the state has told the county it wants a plan of action for dealing with the situation.
"If you don't do a plan of action, they're going to take action," said County Mayor Eugene Ray. "I've been through this before."
Ray was on the commission in the mid-1980s when a federal court forced construction of the current jail after a lawsuit against the county on behalf of inmates.
County officials had been talking off and on for years about the possibility of building a new jail and justice center, but finance officials have said the county doesn't have any more borrowing capacity without increasing its revenue, such as by a tax increase. That has kept the county from pursuing projects like a new jail or a new facility for Cascade High School.
It's possible that the county could get some help in the form of grant funds, although local officials don't know for certain. Grundy County, one of the poorest in the state, is currently building a new 300-bed facility, according to discussion. State assistance may be one of the topics discussed in December.
Commissioner Billy King asked whether it would be cheaper to expand the county workhouse than the jail. But Lt. David Plumley of the jail said that the workhouse has a few empty beds as it is.
Because the workhouse is lower-security than the jail, only certain types of inmates can be placed there, and all of the inmates who qualify for the workhouse are already there. Plus, the workhouse is hemmed in on all sides and has no real room for expansion.
In other discussion at Tuesday night's meeting, Commissioner Jimmy Patterson said that the Rover area needs a fire hall. Unionville Volunteer Fire Department has a vehicle that could be stationed there, and some of the Unionville volunteers live in the Rover area and could man the unit. The trouble is finding a suitable site, said Patterson.