Sit Down With
BY KRISTEN BUCKLES
Step-by-step direction is now being offered to the county as commissioners and officials look to address the decertification resulting from overcrowding at the Greene County Detention Center.
Bob Bass, Tennessee Corrections Institute (TCI) County Corrections Program (CCP) coordinator, shared with the Courthouse/Workhouse Committee some of his observations on the current conditions inside the jail and what steps they can take to begin correcting the situation.
The committee met in a workshop on Thursday at the Courthouse Annex to hear from Bass, who was also accompanied by Robert Kane, a TCI detention facilities specialist, and Jim Hart, a University of Tennessee County Technical Assistance Service (CTAS) jail management consultant.
The state officials came to aid the committee in what has been an at-times difficult process to address the recent decertification, which came as result of conditions related to overcrowding.
Bass echoed a message that Hart had earlier given the committee when he first came in October: "It's time to get on the same sheet of music."
Bass noted that the CCP is designed to aid counties who are struggling with this very issue by bringing together information and getting government entities to work together (such as TCI and CTAS).
"The CCP is not a taskforce. That's not what it is; sorry, but it's not," he told the committee. "It's education based."
While Bass, Kane and Hart were present to provide the committee with some direction and the information they need to make decisions, "at the end of the day, any decision that's made here is [the committee's]," Bass said.
In preparation for guiding the committee, Bass said he unexpectedly spent seven hours in discussion of the county's situation on Wednesday when he came through to tour the detention center himself.
"This sheriff's very proactive," he said in praise for Sheriff Steve Burns. Bass also noted that Burns is a "good steward" of taxpayers' money.
"He wants to do the right thing," Bass said. "We had a very passionate discussion."
Bass pointed to the statement that was engraved into a keystone when the detention center was built in 1987: "Those who violate the law must answer through due process if we are to have an orderly society."
While he expressed his approval of the statement, he also noted that the overcrowding at the center prevents this from being reality and forces the sheriff and judges into "selective law enforcement" -- imprisioning the worst of the offenders but perhaps not all of the offenders.
However, Burns later noted that he feels Greene County does a good job avoiding such selectivity.
All agreed that one of the worst issues related to the overcrowding is the lack of a "classification system."
This system is how the deputies separate male from female, special needs from healthy, and violent from nonviolent, Kane said.
"When the average daily population exceeds 90 percent, your classification is basically gone," Kane added.
When Kane made his surprise inspection that later led to the jail's decertification, he said it was averaging 167 percent over capacity and 200 to 250 percent over in the female cell areas.
Without the classification system, he added that the deputies could be unable to properly protect the inmates, themselves and potentially even the community.
Neil Matthews, the administrator at the detention center, noted that this is a constant balancing act for those working inside the jail, made worse by a lack of several individual holding cells in which to place violent or medically ill offenders.
This, he said, can result in the "best of the worst" returning to the general pods to make room for others.
"It's a continuous chess game," Matthews said.
'YOUR SON, YOUR FATHER'
As Bass made his presentation, he showed the commissioners pictures he had taken inside the jail this week, often showing inmates sleeping on mattresses on the floor for lack of bed space.
"When you look at this picture, I want you to think about your son laying there, your father laying there," he said. "This is your community."
He also showed the commissioners several areas of note with the current facility, including some areas of egress or problems related to aging or water damage.
However, he did note that the center is very clean and that the laundry facilities could likely accommodate an expansion, should the committee decide to move in that direction rather than building a new facility.
STATE AND FEDERAL
However, cutting revenue by decreasing the number of state and federal prisoners may not necessarily be the best course, according to his presentation.
Hart and Bass both noted that the state has more than 4,800 inmates across the state ready for transport into a state facility.
However, these facilities are all full and a new one is under construction, they noted. That facility will house approximately 1,450 inmates.
It can take between three to four years of wait for the state to find the bed space for one of their inmates, Bass said.
Meanwhile, those inmates stay in the county jail and the state pays the county to help offset the costs -- operational costs that would largely still be there even if the state inmates were not bringing in revenue to offset it, he said.
Federal inmates bring with them more revenue than even state inmates, the officials noted. Emptying the jail of federal inmates could come at a high financial cost and would not be enough to overcome the overcrowding situation, they said.
Burns also noted that, of the 162 federal courthouses in the country, Greene County's ranks as 25th on the list for the most number of cases.
In summary, Bass concluded that the overcrowding issues at the center are not "an issue of aggressively pulling in too many state and federal inmates."
STEP BY STEP
Bass offered what he said can be a step-by-step process for the county through the CCP program.
He noted that Greene County has already completed step one by implementing community programs, drug courts and other viable methods of reducing the jail population.
(Bass discouraged the county from pursuing ankle bracelet monitoring options, which he said few inmates can afford and perhaps even fewer will follow the guidelines.)
Step two, he said, will be to take a forensic approach to the problem, study the numbers and look at all alternatives to correct the issues.
EARLY STUDY OF NUMBERS
Hart noted that the committee asked him to conduct a study of their jail population and said he is a week or two off from having that study complete.
He provided some early numbers, noting that the monthly average daily population at the jail and workhouse was as follows:
* 2010: lowest, 269 men; highest, 320 men; (with eight months less than 300); lowest 69 women, highest 113 women;
* 2011: lowest, 294 men; highest, 348 men; (with only two months less than 300); lowest 82 women, highest 112 women; and
* 2012: lowest, 315 men; highest, 356 men; (with no months less than 300); lowest 96 women, highest 118 women.
"Once you hit a plateau, starting hitting those 200s, you stay at 200s. Start hitting those 250s, you stay at 250," he said. "You don't go back."
He also noted that Greene County has more than 1,800 individuals under supervision, such as on parole.
PLAN OF ACTION
Bass noted that the county was also in an unusual situation in that there were two locations that needed a Plan of Action (POA) to resolve issues threatening certification.
At the Sheriff's Department's minimum-security workhouse, a POA was filed and the issues are being resolved, he noted.
At the detention center, however, the problem was larger with no easy answers, meaning no POA was immediately put into place and, as a result, the county lost certification.
Bass took partial responsibility in this, apologizing that he had not made contact with or aided the county in the process until this point, despite the County Commission having voted to adopt the CCP back in July.
The jail lost certification in September when the TCI Board of Control reviewed the situation and found that a POA had not been put into place.
During the committee's last meeting, Commissioner Robin Quillen shared a conversation with TCI Deputy Director Lance Howell, suggesting that he implied County Mayor Alan Broyles passed up several opportunities to simply write a POA when he appeared before the board in September.
Broyles called this into question on Thursday, saying it is a false statement.
"What was in the paper was certainly not true," Broyles said of Quillen's reported statement.
"When I visited Nashville ... we were just beginning to put our thoughts together as to what was going to have to be done," Broyles said in a follow-up interview.
"We had had some conversations with Charles White concerning the possibilty there of maybe purchasing part of Magnavox, or maybe all of Magnavox, but that was just in conversation between the Sheriff and myself and Roger Woolsey.
"We weren't prepared to take it to a committee yet. We were just in the preparation stages.
"Due to a conflict with the Sheriff's schedule, I agreed to go down there to the board to ask for an extension of time. [I asked] the board for another 60 days before they put the hammer down on us.
"That was the only thing that I did, was ask for the 60-days extension. They turned me down, of course."
Quillen, however, said later that she stood by her earlier statement.
Howell declined to comment specific to the matter, only noting that there was no plan of action presented and the facility was not recertified.
"[TCI] will continue to work with Greene County so that the facility can regain certification following the next inspection," Howell wrote in an emailed response.
"In the mayor's defense, there was a disconnect," Bass said on Thursday. "If you want to blame somebody, blame Bob Bass."
The coordinator also noted that at no point in TCI's history has anyone been able to simply jot down a POA, which must include specific votes by the County Commission and, typically, funds allotted to the project.
Bass said he was unable to make it into Greene County prior to the Board of Control meeting because he is coordinating CCP programs for 28 decertified jails across the state.
He promised, however, that Greene County is now on his radar and that he would not let a week go by without a response if an official here needed his aid.
That, he said, will include a return visit in January in which he will make Thursday's presentation to the full County Commission, as well as provide a one-hour training session on how to develop a POA.
Hart also agreed to have his study complete. At Commissioner Hilton Seay's request, the officials also agreed to help the committee work to develop data to determine if the county can make a profit off the housing of state and/or federal inmates in order to aid in paying for an extension or new facility.