Concurrent Grand Jury Says "Campus-Style Facility" Needed To Replace Overcrowded County Jail

Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Concurrent Hamilton County Grand Jury said the Hamilton County Jail on Walnut Street needs to be replaced by a "campus-style" facility.

In a final report, the panel headed by DeAnna Anderson, said staffing at the jail "is a big concern to us. At the time of our tour there were two officers per floor with each floor having in the neighborhood of 100 inmates. This does not take into account the times an officer is pulled from a floor to transport a mental health inmate as far away as Memphis or do some other type of transport. It only takes a reasonably minded person to see that inmate control and the safety of those officers could easily get out of hand if this is not addressed."


The grand jurors said the current jail "is outdated (built in the late 70’s) and in many places 'patched up' and things are just dealt with because they have no other recourse. We could easily see how such an outdated facility could have major safety issues."

The Concurrent Grand Jury also said stolen cars sold for scrap continue to be a problem, saying there needs to be a longer holding period.

The panel said when a crime is committed and children are present, a charge of child endangerment should be added. 

The Concurrent Grand Jury said a program should be set up so that "at risk" children can be taken to the jail and workhouse so they can see where they could wind up.

Here is the full report:


The Honorable Barry Steelman



Judge, Criminal Court, Division I

Hamilton County, Tennessee


Judge Steelman:


The Concurrent Grand Jury for the May-August, 2013 term presents the following report:


For the members of this Concurrent Grand Jury to say that this experience has “opened their eyes” would be an understatement. They feel honored to have been given the opportunity to serve the courts and their community in this way; they feel as if every citizen should serve when given the opportunity.


They leave their term with a better understanding of the legal system. They have learned that most cases start with an arrest by law enforcement then proceed to Sessions Court and if the case is bound over to the Grand Jury and “True Billed”, the case then moves on to Criminal Court.  


They wish to thank Law Enforcement for taking on the daily task of protecting our streets. Through their testimony the jurors were given a glimpse into the danger they face as well as what they endure in order to aid in the prosecution of those committing criminal acts.


As part of their service they had the honor of hearing from all three Criminal Court Judges. They were enlightened by what they had to say and could see the passion they have for serving the Courts and the community. After having served on Grand Jury for four months they leave with a renewed respect for them.


They were given an overview of sessions Court by one of their Judges, which was beneficial as this is where the cases come from. To help them better understand the cases involving drugs and alcohol, they were shown by a DUI officer how he administers the field sobriety test and given an “education” on drugs by two City Narcotic Investigators.


Sheriff Hammond and Chief Deputy Branum spoke to them about the duties of the Sheriff and Lt. Coppinger gave a very interesting presentation on contraband in the County Jail.


This Grand Jury is made up of employees of Regions Bank, Prologistix Staffing, BCBST and RockTenn, as well as a Professor of Management at UTC., a lab tech at TVA’s nuclear plant and an insurance agent; and we can’t leave out our student, our homemakers and our honored retirees. It is noteworthy to add that as with all Grand Juries, our retirees have expressed the desire to be put on a permanent alternate list.


It was part of their duty to tour Silverdale CCA, Juvenile Detention Court, the County Jail and listen to a presentation on Community Corrections.


During this term the Grand Jury heard 764 cases. They took the charge they were given, came together as a group having respect for each other’s thoughts and made the necessary decisions concerning these cases.


This Grand Jury has been asked to report on Hamilton County Jail and Juvenile Detention Court and it is with great respect that we submit this report:


HAMILTON COUNTY JAIL

Our tour, guided by Lt. Coppinger was, as always, done with professionalism.

We were given a candid look at the facility through the eyes of the people who run it day in and day out. We were shown how they manage to do so effectively all the while in need of a new updated facility and more staff. Given the age of the building we were even more impressed at how clean and maintained the facility was. Everyone left with great respect for the people who run it.


The kitchen, under the supervision of Jim Hughes was found to be clean and organized. It is evident that Mr. Hughes knows how to keep costs down by utilizing inmate labor, teaching them to make many foods from scratch, including the delicious rolls we were served at lunch, and looking for good food deals. On the date of our tour (7/16) he was feeding the inmates at a cost of $2.63 per day.

We feel that the two hot and one cold meal that inmates receive are sufficient and we see it as a savings for the taxpayer that is appreciated.


The medical staff appeared to be proficient and at the ready to deal with the many medical issues that arise at such a highly populated facility. To aid in keeping prescription drug costs down, they work with pharmaceutical companies and use generics when possible. This too, is a burden that falls on the taxpayers shoulders.


The issue of inmates coming in either on psychotropic medication or in need of getting back on them continues to be a problem. The few hours a week that a mental health professional is at the facility, is to be frank, “laughable” when you consider that over 40%  of inmates fall into this category. We know that the men and women that work in the facility are not trained in this field and did not go into this career thinking that they would need to be. To help alleviate many behavioral issues that put both the staff and other inmates at risk, we see the need to have a mental health provider onsite or on call 24/7.


The area of staffing is a big concern to us. At the time of our tour there were two officers per floor with each floor having in the neighborhood of 100 inmates. This does not take into account the times an officer is pulled from a floor to transport a mental health inmate as far away as Memphis or do some other type of transport. It only takes a reasonably minded person to see that inmate control and the safety of those officers could easily get out of hand if this is not addressed.


It is evident to all that a new “campus” style facility has to be considered and soon. The facility is outdated (built in the late 70’s) and in many places “patched up” and things are just dealt with because they have no other recourse. We could easily see how such an outdated facility could have major safety issues.


This Grand Jury feels that a great number of the inmates housed at the facility would be, if out on the streets, committing more crimes. We are grateful for the people who chose to dedicate themselves to such a career and believe that they deserve an updated facility and adequate staffing.


JUVENILE DETENTION CENTER

During our tour we found the staff to be very professional and courteous. They were knowledgeable in their field and seemed dedicated to the betterment of the juvenile offenders that they deal with.


The kitchen appeared to be clean and adequately equipped to feed the number of juveniles that stay there. It is clear that they are fed nutritional meals.


It was good to hear that every juvenile that comes through the facility is given a medical exam. These exams have often times caught underlying conditions that might not have otherwise been caught. It was disheartening to hear that in many cases this is the first time they have seen a medical professional.


We feel that it would be beneficial to have some faith-based ministries volunteer to be available to give counsel to those offenders who chose to have such counsel.


We found the teacher at the facility to be very dedicated to helping these juveniles and know that his classroom would only benefit from the use of technology such as laptop computers or ipads. With most schools having this technology we were surprised to see that it is not available in this classroom. We feel it would make it easier for him to teach while enabling those who want to keep up with classwork, to do so. He is also in need of an updated GED prep book. With this, we feel those juveniles that have trouble staying in school could perhaps be encouraged and ready to get their GED. We have a Grand Juror who works as a supervisor at a staffing agency. The jobs that they place people in, for the most part require a GED and the ability to fill out an on-line application.


The case load for the probation officers appears to be too high. They have eleven officers, each having eighty to one-hundred juveniles. We do not see how they can effectively monitor these juveniles with those ratios.


We cannot stress enough the need to bring back the Intensive Probation Program; this program was cut due to funding. When you sit through four months of Grand Jury, hearing as many as 700 cases, and finding out that so many of the defendants either started as juveniles or have been bound over to Criminal Court as a juvenile

it seems clear to us why this needs to be reinstated and where the expense should be made up.


 The day that we toured, the male “dorm” seemed to be very crowded and some of the juveniles looked more like adults to us. For the safety of the employees and all being held there we feel more security officers are needed.


GENERAL OBSERVATIONS

We believe that it would be easier for Grand Jurors to find probable cause to send cases onto Criminal Court if the turnaround for lab results were quicker. We feel that Chattanooga’s results are not made a priority when being sent to a lab in another county. If we had a lab here results would be available in weeks rather than months. This might also deter defendants from sending misdemeanor cases through to the Grand Jury.


Stolen cars sold for scrap continue to be a problem. We feel it is not enough to have a longer holding period and move the age of the car to be scraped from ten years to twelve years. For the car to be scraped, it has to be” prepped” or stripped of vital parts prior to being brought to the scrap yard. Even if the stolen car is located by an investigator before it is scraped, it is in need of replacement parts often unavailable to, or unattainable by the victim of this crime. We feel that scrap yards should be held accountable for accepting vehicles that often times they must know are being brought in fraudulently.


We feel that when a crime is committed, especially those involving drugs and weapons, and children are present, a charge of child endangerment should be added even if it did not appear that the children were in eminent danger.


We see it as beneficial to our community to put into place, especially at those schools deemed to have more “at risk” students, a program showing juveniles the places that they will end up if they chose to lead a life that shows no regard for the law. A well guided tour through the Hamilton County Jail or Silverdale CCA might just cause some of them to “rethink” their decisions. We feel students as young as eighth grade could handle and benefit from this.


We would like to say how uplifting it was to hear of Judge Stern’s Drug Court. When so many of the cases we heard this term involve drugs, it is good to hear that there is something positive being done to help aid in this overwhelming problem we have, not only in our community, but in our society at large. We feel that more media coverage of this would be a good thing! We commend Judge Stern and her hardworking Drug Court staff for the work they do.




A FINAL THOUGHT


Grand jurors are citizens of the County who take time away from their busy lives to do a service that is important to them. They sit through hours of witness testimony and take extra time off to go on the required facility tours. In doing so, they see firsthand the need for action. Whether it is revising a law that is already in place, reinstating a program that was cut or more manpower at the County Jail, we would ask that the people who were put into place to make such decisions take the time and consider the issues we have brought forth in this report.  






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