A Key Reason
As State Pulls
BY KRISTEN BUCKLES
The Greene County Detention Center has lost its certification for 2012 due to overcrowding, after years of struggling to maintain standards.
Conditions related to overcrowding at the jail are inhibiting the facility from meeting the state's minimum standards, thereby potentially increasing the county's liability and threatening a substantial portion of the county's revenues, according to the Tennessee Corrections Institute (TCI).
Surprise inspections of each facility in the state are conducted annually. On April 24, Greene County's jail failed such an inspection.
A period of 60 days was then provided before reinspection, in which the county had the opportunity to form a plan of action to resolve the issues.
The county managed appropriate measures within a plan of action to maintain certification at the Workhouse, an annex of the detention center, but presented no plan of action for resolving the issues at the detention center, also known as the jail.
No public mention of this year's jail inspections was made until a TCI detention facilities specialist, Robert Kane, addressed the matter with the Greene County Jail Committee and the County Budget & Finance Committee in June, and later addressed the entire County Commission in July.
Kane, who had conducted the inspections, explained that he would be recommending decertification of the jail during the TCI's Board of Control meeting on Sept. 12.
To avoid such action, the county could vote to join a County Corrections Partnership (CCP) Initiative that would aid the county in finding solutions.
The key, however, was for the county to form a viable plan of action to solve the overcrowding issues, he said.
In July, the County Commission suspended the rules of order to vote outside its agenda in order to immediately pass a resolution to join the CCP and to form a subcommittee to formulate a plan of action.
That subcommittee never met, however, and no plan of action was ever formed.
On Wednesday, the TCI Board of Control met in Nashville and declared Greene County's jail decertified when no plan of action was submitted, according to TCI Communications Director Christopher Garrett.
Repeated attempts on Friday to reach County Mayor Alan Broyles for comment on the decertification were unsuccessful.
Sheriff Steve Burns referred to Mayor Broyles as the best source for updated information on the decertification, since he said Broyles attended the Board of Control meeting on Wednesday.
However, Burns did note that the county still has the option to develop a plan of action and appear before the board at its next meeting on Dec. 5.
If such a plan was adopted by the County Commission and approved by the Board of Control, it could lead the county back on track for recertification, Burns said.
However, such measures would be at the discretion of the County Commission, he added.
'HUMAN RIGHTS, NEEDS'
The standards set by TCI are the minimum and deal with "human rights and human needs," according to Kane.
"Most all facilities should be striving to do far better than what our [TCI's] standards are," Kane had told the county's Jail Committee in June.
There are 136 areas of compliance that must be met 100 percent, he explained.
"If you're not meeting our standards, which are minimal by nature, based on human rights and human needs, then ... you're not meeting the bottom of the barrel," he had said.
Chief among the issues at the center is the overcrowding.
According to Kane's report, the daily average inmate count between Jan. 12 and April 20 was 264 -- 67 percent above what is considered the jail's proper capacity.
In fact, capacity is 158 inmates in the jail, but he said the facility should only maintain about 90 percent of that number in order to properly allow for segregation of prisoners as needed.
Such overcrowding means the officers cannot properly separate inmates that are violent from those that are not, he said.
As a result, the overcrowded conditions can increase the county's liability, Kane added.
"Decertification carries with it some penalties, mostly in the lack of being defensible in court," he said in June. "Your liability is your greatest detriment for not being certified."
Such increased liability could also cause the county either to lose its insurance or to experience increased costs for insurance, he said.
In addition, the Tennessee Department of Corrections has been known to pull all state inmates from certain uncertified facilities, taking with those prisoners a significant portion of funding for the jail and for the county, Kane said.
The state could also choose to require that the county set aside a portion of such revenue for improving the situation at the detention center, he added.
This revenue is a significant portion of the county's General Fund budget, out of which most departments of county government operate.
In July, Sheriff Burns agreed to increase the figure for anticipated revenue from the boarding of state inmates by about $200,000 to help balance the county's deficit.
In 2011-2012, Burns said the boarding of state inmates brought in about $1.5 million. In response, the county increased this year's anticipated revenue from $800,000 to $1.2 million.
At the time, Burns made it clear to the county that this would require him to board an average of 89 state inmates per day, in addition to 54 or 55 federal inmates and any county inmates.
In response, the Budget & Finance Committee agreed to increase the Sheriff's budget in line items such as overtime, maintenance, gasoline and food supplies so that he can address concerns related to the overcrowding in the coming year.