BY KRISTEN BUCKLES
The Tennessee Corrections Institute (TCI) conducted its annual surprise inspection of the Greene County Detention Center on Tuesday, and what the inspector found resulted in his decision to recommend recertification in 2013, according to Sheriff Steve Burns.
Burns provided the report during a brief recess in the Greene County Budget and Finance Committee meeting on Wednesday.
The TCI inspector noted needed improvements in the facility, including more detail in the correction officers' logbook and the replacement of a couple of windows, Burns said.
However, he told the committee, the inspector will not be back for a reinspection this year, based on recent efforts to reduce the jail's population as much as possible, even at the expense of county revenue through the removal of state and federal inmates.
The county has been receiving about $2 million annually for the housing of state and federal prisoners, according to Budget Director Mary Shelton.
The sheriff also noted that the inspector was pleased by the County Commission's recent study of ways to solve the overcrowding problem.
Burns said that the inspector's recommendation for 2013 certification will come before the TCI Board of Control in June, at which time he will also appear before them.
"I hate to go down there with only that [discussion by the County Commission]," Burns told the committee, noting that the full commission has not yet voted to take any action.
"This is for the purpose of recertification. We've got one shot."
TCI, he said, keeps "hinting" for more -- such as an actual vote related to funding of improvements.
In 2012, TCI Inspector Robert Kane recommended decertification of the Greene County Detention Center to the TCI Board of Control, based largely on extensive overcrowding that he said violated "human rights and human needs."
As a result, the center was decertified in 2012.
Since that time, several inmates have filed federal lawsuits against the county in relation to the center's overcrowded conditions.
Kane had cautioned the county that the certification represents that the county has met minimum standards in providing living conditions for the inmates.
Without the certification, the county has a much greater liability relative to lawsuits of this kind and could face a federal judge's direct order to the County Commission to raise taxes and build a new facility.
The County Commission has responded by holding numerous meetings to discuss and explore everything from renovations of the current facility to the purchase of land to build an entirely new justice center, with courtrooms, jail, and county offices included.
However, the county is currently at its capacity to issue bonds to raise funds, and will remain so for some time. That situation leaves the county government unable to borrow money in the traditional fashion -- issuance of bonds -- to address the problem.
Most recently, the commission has heard three presentations from companies interested in providing an architect, a contractor and financing on a lease-to-own program.
TCI County Corrections Program Coordinator Bob Bass expressed his support of such a program during a recent jail workshop.
The last of the three company teams, headed by J.A. Street, will make a second presentation at 5 p.m., Monday, May 20, prior to the County Commission meeting.
Burns encouraged the committee to consider either avote to select one of these three company teams or to a vote to allow Dave Wright, the local architect the county has employed to advise the county government during the process, to analyze the three offers and make a recommendation later.
The sheriff reminded committee members of his experience with the Board of Control in 2007. In that year, the county did much study on how to address overcrowding at the jail, but the board nearly denied certification because of the lack of an actual vote.
At that time, Burns reduced the number of federal inmates in the jail to get the facility under capacity and maintain certification.
This approach, however, the sheriff has said, is no longer an option since the jail would be overcrowded even with no federal inmates and half the current number of state inmates.
The state inmates are hard to move to other detention facilities because of a lack of space in state penitentiaries, Burns has explained.
"We really need our certification," the sheriff said, referencing the lawsuits. "We need it this year. This is positive action so we can proceed."
He also added that other counties have continued on this path of "positive action" for three or four years without actually starting a project.