County Grand Jury Recommends Possession Of Small Amount Of Marijuana Be Legalized; Says Work Needs To Start Now On New Jail

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Hamilton County Grand Jury is recommending that possession of a small amount of marijuana be legalized in Tennessee.


The panel said in a final report to Judge Rebecca Stern, "In order to reduce the number of cases heard by the Grand Jury, and reduce the number of cases proceeding to Criminal Court, the State Legislature should consider legalizing the possession of a small amount of marijuana, which is not packaged for resale."


The Grand Jury, headed by Robert Smith, also said work needs to start now on replacing the County Jail on Walnut Street. The panel said the jail is outmoded and difficult to operate.


It also says that the jail is severely understaffed.


The report says an intensive probation program for hard-line offenders should be put back in place at Juvenile Court.


It says more cases ought to be handled in General Sessions Court to lighten the load on the three judges in Criminal Court.


The Grand Jury said a Mental Health Court should be set up here similar to one that operates in Nashville.


It said the state needs to set up new evidence testing laboratories so that cases are not delayed so long.


Here is the full report:


The Honorable Rebecca Stern                                                                       

Judge, Criminal Court Division II                                                                 

Hamilton County, Tennessee


Judge Stern:


The Regular Grand Jury for the January – April, 2013 term, presents the following



The members of the Grand Jury agree that serving on this panel has been an “eye opening” experience.  Listening to the various witnesses testify about allegations of criminal activity, learning about the Criminal Court System, hearing the presentations by the three Criminal Court Judges, touring the County Jail, Silverdale (CCA) facility and the Juvenile Detention Center, and hearing the presentation about the Community Corrections Program has given the Jurors insight into the Criminal Justice System, that few Hamilton County citizens ever get to experience.


Also, hearing first-hand about the dangers faced by our law enforcement personnel, on a daily basis, gave the Jurors a better appreciation of the work these individuals do to protect the citizens of Hamilton County.


The Jurors encourage all citizens who have the opportunity to serve as a member of a Grand Jury to do so.


We appreciated the legal information provided by Assistant District Attorney, Jerry Sloan, and Christina Palmer for serving as our notetaker this term.


This term, the Regular Grand Jury is tasked with reporting on the County Jail and Juvenile Detention Center.





1.  Even though the officers in the County Jail work under “less than desirable conditions”, they appear to approach their job with a good attitude, dedication, professionalism and a concern for the well-being of the inmates.  (The County is fortunate to have individuals of this caliber working at this outdated facility.)

2.  The medical clinic provided for the inmates is a very effective, cost saving approach, since it alleviates having to transport numerous inmates to Erlanger Hospital for routine medical procedures.


3.  The kitchen supervisor, Mr. Hughes, is to be commended for providing nutritional meals to the inmates, while at the same time utilizing procedures which save the County taxpayers money.




1.  The Regular Grand Jury finds that the current conditions at the Hamilton County Jail are disturbing, and that real planning needs to be initiated immediately to construct a new facility.  It is not cost effective to continue to solve maintenance issues at the current Jail utilizing a “band-aid” approach.


2.  ALL planning for a new jail MUST involve experts familiar with current concepts of correctional facility design, as well as current employees at the Jail.  (It is the Jury’s understanding that the current Jail was designed without any advice from individuals familiar with jail construction, which has resulted in security concerns.)


3.  Some of the current equipment in the Jail kitchen was purchased, as used equipment, prior to the opening of the Jail in 1978.  Any new facility must be designed with a kitchen having sufficient space to effectively prepare the number of meals required on a daily basis.


4.  The Jail is severely understaffed.  It is unacceptable that there are only one or two officers on a floor with 70 – 140 inmates.  Often, officers are pulled from duty on the floors to transport inmates in a safe manner, which leads to even more severe staffing problems.


5.  A refrigerator needs to be provided on each floor of the Jail for the officers to keep personal snacks and soft drinks.  Sometimes, a cold soft drink just helps the rest of the day go better!


6.  Since the County owns the Parking Garage, and in order to increase the morale of the employees, the County should pay for all personnel working in the Jail to utilize the parking garage.


7.  Utilize inmate labor to produce items which could be sold to the public and have the proceeds return to the Jail budget.





The Detention Center employees were experienced and knowledgeable regarding working with youthful offenders.




1.  The Juvenile Detention Center needs to have a full-time, or on-call, counselor or chaplain.  This employee would provide a trained adult with whom the youthful offender could speak.  Since the average stay for the youth at this facility is a few days, this would not be a long-term counseling program.  However, one adult to listen to a minor’s problem might start the process to “turn him/her around”.  Remember, “It takes a village to raise a child”. 


2.  Reinstate the Intensive Probation Program, which was eliminated a few years ago, due to the reduction of State funding.  This program, which targeted “last chance” young people was very successful and much less expensive than housing these individuals in a State facility.


3.  The administration should inform appropriate organizations, educational, religious and civic, of the need for volunteers to work at the Juvenile facility.


4.  The administration should have posters in the Center providing information regarding (a) appropriate life choices for young people, (b) agencies which can provide assistance, both on-site and/or by telephone to the families, and (c) healthy eating habits.


5.  The walls at the facility should be painted a brighter, more cheerful color.  Also, murals and/or artwork by the offenders could adorn the walls.


6.  The cafeteria workers and staff of the facility should work together to teach the children about nutrition.


7.  The caseloads of the probation officers appear too high to provide significant assistance to help turn the young offenders into productive citizens.


8.  An appropriate Juvenile Judicial Official needs to be available each weekend Friday evening to Monday morning to authorize attachments in order to arrest a minor accused of a serious crime.



1.  The County needs to fully fund the Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) manager position.  Since approximately thirty-five percent (35%) of incarcerated individuals have some type of mental issue, this position will help insure appropriate treatment for those inmates. This will help reduce the number of  incarcerated individuals in the County.


2.  Based on the cases that we have heard this Term, it appears that more than one-half of these cases, should have been settled at the City or Sessions Court level.  This would permit felonies to move through the three Criminal Courts faster.  Prosecutors and defense attorneys are encouraged to work to settle misdemeanor cases, instead of the cases going to the Grand Jury.  Hamilton County has a greater percentage of cases going to Criminal Court than Knox County, which is similar in population.


3.  All scrap yards which accept vehicles, should be required to provide the City and County law enforcement agencies a daily report of all vehicles purchased by the business.  Also, the businesses should keep purchased vehicles for at least seven days.  It should be a State criminal offense for a scrap yard to knowingly purchase a stolen vehicle. 


4.  The State needs to re establish at least two additional drug testing laboratories, in order to reduce the time a case has to be “held” prior to finally being resolved.


5.  The County needs to establish a Mental Health Court similar to the one currently operating in Nashville.  Since this Court would have trained individuals to assist in the decision making, there would be a reduction in the amount of time and money spent for law enforcement and jail personnel to work with these defendants. 


6.  Any time that a minor is present when a felony is committed, the parent(s) or legal custodian(s) should be charged with an additional felony – child endangerment.


7.  Any computer available to the general public, such as at a public library, should have a filter to block any type of pornographic site.


8.  Any crime committed against children, adults who are physically or mentally impaired, or any individual over 70 years of age should result in an enhanced charge.


9.  In order to reduce the number of cases heard by the Grand Jury, and reduce the number of cases proceeding to Criminal Court, the State Legislature should consider legalizing the possession of a small amount of marijuana, which is not packaged for resale.



The Regular Grand Jury for the January-April, 2013 term heard witnesses testify on 639 cases.

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