Members of the Concurrent Hamilton County Grand Jury said they are concerned about serious overcrowding problems at the county jail.
The report, read by Foreman Robert Smith to Criminal Court Judge Barry Steelman, said prisoners who should be kept apart are being intermingled.
The grand jurors also said there is a shortage of correctional officers at the jail.
It was also recommended that the county receive a new treatment facility for juveniles.
Grand jurors said there should be magistrates available at the jail around the clock, saying some people brought to the jail have to wait up to 12 hours to be booked.
The Grand Jury said the $13-per-day pay they receive is woefully inadequate - especially with the high price of gas.
They said it should be at least $20 per day.
Here is the full report:
The Honorable Barry Steelman, Judge
Criminal Court, Division I
Hamilton County, Tennessee
The Concurrent Grand Jury for the May – August, 2008 presents the following report:
We, the members of the Concurrent Grand Jury find this opportunity to serve a very educational experience regarding the Criminal Justice System in Hamilton County, and recommend that all citizens avail themselves of this opportunity, if subpoenaed to serve.
The Grand Jury has also learned that all the law enforcement officers who work within this County have a very difficult and dangerous job, and we sincerely appreciate their dedication to protecting the law abiding citizens.
We appreciated the legal help provided by Bill West, Assistant District Attorney and also appreciated Shannon Taylor serving as the notetaker for this term.
This report reflects the opinions of the Concurrent Grand Jury. We are charged with reporting on the County Jail and the Juvenile Justice Center. Although we are not reporting on the Silverdale facility or Community Corrections, we appreciated the very informative tours provided by the officials of those facilities.
The Concurrent Grand Jury issues the following commendations and recommendations:
HAMILTON COUNTY JAIL
(1) This facility was clean in most areas and the staff appeared knowledgeable and well trained.
(2) The kitchen was impressive – clean and well organized, serves as a training area for food preparation for inmates, most food prepared from scratch, menus are reviewed by a nutritionist, special meals, both medical and religious, are prepared, and the average cost per day per inmate is $2.43.
(3) The staff seemed to be aware of and utilized safe procedures to protect the inmates and themselves.
(4) Given all the problems inherent in any correctional type facility, plus the overcrowding and lack of sufficient manpower at the County Jail, we feel that the staff is providing excellent service regardless of the problems they face on a daily basis.
(5) The Jail administration is to be commended for the religious and educational programs they provide to the inmates on a voluntary basis.
(6) The Grand Jury is aware that 128 additional beds should be available by the end of this calendar year at Silverdale, which will ease the current overcrowding at the County Jail. However, based on our tour which occurred on July 15, 2008, the present overcrowding due to lack of jail space is unacceptable to the staff and the inmates. Also, those inmates who need to be separated/isolated, for example, who are high profile, suicidal, aggressive, non-compliant, known gang members or juveniles, create additional problems due to insufficient jail space.
(7) Just as critical as the overcrowding is the lack of an appropriate number of officers per floor and/or per shift. Even if all of the current officers for a shift are on duty, it is possible that one or more officers will be called from their regular duty to transport an inmate to Erlanger, assist with the transfer of a citizen to Moccasin Bend, help quell an inmate disorder or watch an inmate with suicidal tendencies. The Grand Jury strongly recommends that the entire Hamilton County Commission tour the County Jail, review this situation and provide the needed resources to resolve this serious personnel matter.
(8) The current updating and repair of lighting and shower facilities needs to continue and be completed as soon as possible.
(9) The technology needs to be upgraded in the booking area to permit officers to electronically produce needed reports and forms.
(10) Install the technology to permit inmates at Silverdale to appear for a hearing in front of a Judge by videoconferencing. This would result in a significant reduction in the amount of time and funds being spent in the transport of inmates from Silverdale to the County Jail for a hearing and then returned to Silverdale.
(11) Additional trained personnel are needed to deal with the large number of inmates who have psychological problems.
(12) The County Jail is extremely fortunate to have Lt. Coppinger, a trained, knowledgeable gang expert, to assist with these types of issues in the Jail.
(13) Magistrates or Judges need to be available twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week in order to set bond for those individuals arrested, instead of just Magistrates from 6:00PM to 6:00AM. Currently, an arrestee may have to wait for as long as 12 hours in the booking area to have bond set, which requires an officer(s) to supervise those waiting for a bond hearing.
JUVENILE JUSTICE CENTER
(1) The facility, especially the kitchen, was very clean. The kitchen staff provides varied, well-balanced meals for the juveniles.
(2) The staff appeared well-educated, concerned for the young people being housed there, and capable of diffusing difficult situations.
(3) The building, which was constructed about 20 years ago, is not large enough to provide space for the Courtrooms, other service personnel, and to serve/house the youths. (Due to occasional overcrowding, the juveniles being held at this facility have to sleep on a mattress on plastic-type beds approximately 8 inches above the floor.)
(4) The Concurrent Grand Jury was depressed to learn of the increase in violent-type juvenile crimes. Sufficient trained personnel need to be hired to attempt to assist these young people and their families in techniques to control their anger and be able to engage in behavior expected in a civilized society.
(5) The Concurrent Grand Jury was also very concerned about the reduction in State funding for the Intensive Probation Program. This “last chance” program for juvenile offenders, which was successful, had to be terminated due to lack of State funds.
(6) This Grand Jury recommends, as has prior Grand Juries, that a treatment facility for juveniles and their families be established in the Chattanooga area, since the closest facility of this type is at least a two-hour drive. Many parents are unable to travel to another facility, and thus can not be involved in treatment with a counselor and their children.
CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM
(1) Serious consideration needs to be given to increasing the daily pay for the members of the Grand Jury from $13.00 per day to at least $20.00 per day. The current cost of gasoline, which is not expected to significantly decrease in the foreseeable future, and the four-month jury term certainly justify this request.
(2) Again, this Concurrent Grand Jury, as other Grand Juries, is concerned about the number of traffic cases which involve a driver who has multiple DUIs or does not possess a valid driver’s license or has no insurance. The Grand Jury recommends enhanced penalties for drivers guilty of these crimes on multiple occasions.
(3) There appear to be some communication problems when sex offenders are released from Tennessee prisons, in that local officials are not always notified of the release of these offenders.
(4) This Grand Jury is concerned about the number of cases of financial and/or physical abuse of elderly and incompetent individuals. We recommend enhanced penalties for those found guilty of these types of crimes.
(5) Based on witnesses heard this term, there appears to be a large number of cocaine cases by repeat/multiple offenders in the Chattanooga area. This should result in a long term sentence, without probation, for those found guilty of drug trafficking.