Grand Jury Says County Needs To Start "Immediately" On Funding A New County Jail

Friday, August 29, 2014

Members of the Hamilton County Grand Jury said in a final report that the county needs to start "immediately" on funding a replacement for the Hamilton County Jail.

The report, read by Foreman Robert Smith, says, "The Jail is near and/or over capacity and understaffed!  Hard-working corrections officers are in constant danger.  Being responsible for 80-100 inmates per officer is totally unacceptable."

The report also says, "A new Jail is needed to replace the current antiquated one.  The County Commission needs to immediately appropriate funds to start the process to build a new Jail.  The architect selected for the design must be an individual who is knowledgeable and has had experience regarding the standards and security needs of a large correctional facility."

Grand jurors said the county may wind up facing a costly lawsuit due to the understaffing of the jail.

The report says about 40 percent of inmates who enter the jail are already on psychotropic medications. 

The panel also recommended that when one of the two grand juries (regular and concurrent) returns a no bill (declines to indict), it should be reviewed by the other grand jury.

Here is the full report:

The Honorable Barry Steelman

Judge, Criminal Court, Division I

Hamilton County, Tennessee

Judge Steelman:

The Regular Grand Jury for the May – August, 2014 term presents the following report:

 Serving on the Grand Jury has been a real learning experience and an eye-opening one for the Jurors.  We encourage all citizens who have an opportunity to serve on a Grand Jury.

 Hearing the law enforcement officers testify regarding crime in Hamilton County, made the Jurors realize the difficult and dangerous aspects of their job.  We appreciate their efforts in protecting the citizens of our County.

 This report reflects the opinions of the Regular Grand Jury.  We are charged with reporting on the Hamilton County Jail and Juvenile Detention Center.

 HAMILTON  COUNTY  JAIL

RECOMMENDATIONS:

 (1)  The officers appeared to treat the inmates with respect.

(2)  The kitchen offers work opportunities for inmates who volunteer and are approved.  This offers possible job opportunities for these inmates upon their release.  The food service is top notch and more than adequately serves the inmates.  Using inmate labor reduces the cost for Hamilton County taxpayers to feed the prisoners.

(3)  The video conferencing for inmate arraignments reduces the need for moving them to the Court rooms and then returning them back to the Jail, thus reducing manpower needs.

(4)  The jail appeared to be clean and well organized.

RECOMMENDATIONS:

(1)  The Jail is near and/or over capacity and understaffed!  Hard working Corrections Officers are in constant danger.  Being responsible for 80-100 inmates per officer is totally unacceptable. 

 (2)  A new Jail is needed to replace the current antiquated one.  The County Commission needs to immediately appropriate funds to start the process to build a new Jail.  The architect selected for the design must be an individual who is knowledgeable and has had experience regarding the standards and security needs of a large correctional facility.  The County potentially faces a costly lawsuit due to the understaffing of the Jail.

(3)  About 40% of inmates who enter the Jail are already on psychotropic medications.  The medical staff attempt to monitor these inmates who are mentally ill.  The Corrections Officers are faced with the task of placing these inmates in the most appropriate environment which proves to be very challenging.

(4)  Some parts of the Jail need to be painted.

JUVENILE  DETENTION CENTER

RECOMMENDATIONS:

(1)  Even though the building is older, it is clean and well-maintained.

 (2)  The kitchen staff provides nutritional and well-balanced meals for the Juveniles; many of whom gain weight while at the Detention Center.  Also, the kitchen always receives very high scores on their Health Inspection Report.

 (3)  The Detention Center provides a teacher who attempts to provide educational opportunities for the Juveniles, who attend school at the Center every day except on weekends.  The teacher schedules outside speakers to assist the Juveniles with solving issues upon their release.

RECOMMENDATIONS:

(1)  The Juveniles need to be required to assist with cleaning hallways and rooms

(2)  The Detention Center needs additional staff, especially when it is overcrowded with Juveniles.

CRIMINAL  JUSTICE  SYSTEM

(1)  During the term, Grand Jurors should be provided time to observe Court proceedings. 

(2)  The District Attorney should make a presentation to each Grand Jury explaining/discussing the functions of that office.

(3)  All the administrators of law enforcement departments within Hamilton County need to develop a procedure to ensure that their officers appear before the Grand Jury in a timely manner to present pending cases.

(4)  Any “No Bill” issued by one Grand Jury should be reviewed by the other Grand Jury.

(5)  This Grand Jury, as many previous Grand Juries, is concerned about the number of minor misdemeanor cases presented to the Grand Jury which should have been resolved prior to the Grand Jury having to hear these cases.  These type cases really tie up the Criminal Justice proceedings in Hamilton County.

(6)  A procedure needs to be implemented which would prevent inmates from waiting in a holding cell for a long period of time to appear in Court that day, only to learn that their case has been passed until a future date.  Besides the inmate becoming disturbed because of the delay, it further reduces manpower at the already understaffed jail.

(7)  When an officer is testifying from another officer’s sworn document, the document must be sufficiently legible so that the Grand Jury can fully understand the case.

CASES  HEARD  THIS  TERM

The Regular Grand Jury, serving during the May – August, 2014 term, heard witness testimony on 546 cases.

 


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