Concurrent Grand Jury Says Law Needs To Be Changed So Grand Juries Deal With Serious Felony Cases

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Members of the Concurrent Grand Jury recommeneded in a final report that the grand jury system be change so it focuses mainly on serious felony cases.

The report by the panel headed by Jimmy Smith said an individual charged with a seatbelt violation refused to settle it at General Sessions Court and 17 witnesses had to appear before the Grand Jury.

Continuing to have the two grand jury panels deal with a host of misdemeanor cases brings "great expense to the taxpayers," the report says.

The report says, "In the end a virtual Grand Jury, using portfolio of Information about a case could operate effectively, and could possibly clear more cases off the docket than a sitting Grand Jury."

The panel also said it was surprised by the number of local police agencies that appear before the panel and said there should be better information sharing among all the agencies.

It also said that bi-lingual officers need to be available when there are cases in which those involved do not speak English. The report cited one case in which an officer did not bring several serious charges because he could not understand the defendants or witnesses.

Here is the full report:

 Presented to The Honorable Tom Greenholtz Judge, Crimina l Court, Division II


This Concurrent Grand Jury was convened and installed on January 9, 2017. The Honorable Tom Greenholtz swore in the thirteen primary and two alternate jurors and provided us with verbal instructions that guided us during the term of our service.

As we are sure is the case with most persons summoned to serve, the members of this Grand Jury had many incorrect preconceived notions regarding the role and purpose of a grand jury in the criminal justice system.  Now, in hindsight, we stand in witness to the value this group of lay citizens has as a defense against unsubstantiated claims of law enforcement agents and potential prosecution by the state. Unanimously, we agree that it has been both a privilege and honor to serve on the Hamilton County Grand Jury.  For all of us, the time has proven to be both valuable and insightful.  Each juror will take with them their personal memories of the experience as they return to their normal lives. At the forefront will be a deep appreciation for the critical work accomplished on a daily basis by the many, mostly unsung, but highly dedicated men and women serving in various capacities of the Hamilton County criminal justice system. We especially want to share our sincere gratitude to the law enforcement officers of Hamilton County and those in service to the State of Tennessee who demonstrated to us through their testimony, a high degree of bravery, courage, and integrity in the performance of their jobs. You cannot sit and listen to hundreds of cases over four months and not walk away with a deep sense of respect and pride in these officers for the situations they place themselves in on our behalf. We collectively salute you.


The primary duty of the Grand Jury was to review and assess the state's case against accused persons and determine if there was probable cause to proceed to criminal trial.  During this term, the Concurrent Grand Jury reviewed 480 cases.

The Concurrent Grand Jury was also tasked by Judge Greenholtz to specifically report on the Silverdale Correctional Facility and the Community Corrections Program. These are two elements of the Hamilton County criminal corrections department that also includes the Hamilton County jail and the juvenile pre-trial Youth Detention Facility.

Approach and Methodology

To accomplish the task of reviewing Silverdale the Grand Jury was provided the opportunity to tour the facility as well as other Hamilton County criminal justice facilities. At each facility, we met with their leadership teams and received detail orientation briefings from senior management. The Director of the Hamilton County Community Corrections Program visited us in the Hamilton County Courthouse and provided a brief orientation of the components and finances of the program.

The members of this Grand Jury acknowledge that they are not trained inspectors of penal institutions, nor have they received formal training in criminal justice processes, or any psychological training as it pertains to alternative sentencing theory and practice.  In fact, the singular credential for most members of this jury was simply that of lay citizen of Hamilton County.

To execute the primary duty of the Grand Jury, that of determining probable cause for each case we heard, we relied heavily on the knowledge and experience of our embedded Assistant District Attorney, Jerry Sloan. Mr. Sloan carefully explained nuances of criminal statutes, ensured we understood the nature of the charges brought against the accused, and often patiently took the time to explain other complexities not apparent to the average lay person. His inputs to the process were invaluable to us.

We also wish to acknowledge the willingness of many of the law enforcement officers that came before the Grand Jury to testify to offer insightful details of their unique specialties, nature of their work environment, and other insider information in response to our questions.

To comply with the request of foreman to report on Silverdale and Community Corrections, our approach was to observe each functional entity individually, discuss them collectively, and then jointly document our comments and findings in this report. It was agreed that documented items should meet one of two criteria: 1) would a typical tax-paying citizen of Hamilton County want to know about the item and, 2) is the item something that we feel should be raised to the attention of senior leaders within the criminal justice system and more importantly, the attention of Hamilton County Commissioners.

The jurors felt it was important to listen to, internalize, discuss and then report what the various spokespersons said during our tours of their facilities and services. While providing informative overviews, these representatives also shared key messages about their facilities. It was obvious to all of us that they saw the Grand Jury as a messenger that could provide an alternative voice to some of their concerns . We agree. Individually, a single Grand Jury report probably carries limited value, but over the course of a year, during which six Grand Juries will perform similar visits, perhaps a larger impact can be achieved.  Multiplied over the course of five or ten years the value can increase further. The question is, can we wait that long.

This Grand Jury supplemented its own direct contact with the Hamilton County facilities and personnel with research of past Grand Jury reports as well as publicly available material.

Findings from this research is included in this report as a contrast to our own experience. Happily, we can report that many things have improved over the past several years that positively impacted the lives and environment of inmates and corrections officers, but not unsurprisingly, many conditions remain unchanged. This often is related to the expected cost of the proposed changes and in some cases the political will power of our elected officials.

The goal of this report is to document our experience and add our comments to the growing narrative of the state of the criminal justice system and facilities in Hamilton County.  In doing so, the members of this Grand Jury hope that it might influence and impact the political and operational decision-making regarding the future of criminal justice services in Hamilton County.

To that end, we respectfully submit our report.

Grand Jury Case Reviews

The normal routine of reviewing cases bound over to the Grand Jury provided numerous instances of somewhat mundane procedural review of witness testimony. However, there were occasional humorous incidents that helped break the somber proceedings.   The following are our comments from this shared experience:

    Comment: Hamilton County has significant number of local law enforcement jurisdictions operating within its borders.  Not unusual, but the number of them was a surprise to most jurors.  In addition to local communities like Lookout Mountain, East Ridge, Collegedale, and Soddy Daisy, for example, there were also officers from the colleges and universities represented. Cases from these jurisdictions were added to those from Chattanooga Police Department, Hamilton County Sheriff, the Tennessee Highway Patrol, and other Tennessee state agencies. Obviously, this is somehow working for the County, but it appears to be more of a brute force process than a smooth-running information sharing and exchange process. We talked to several of the officers about the situation. Most agreed it was working.  Chattanooga Police for example have email in their patrol cars which helps with communications beyond that of radio. The biggest culprit in what we perceived was a labor-intensive, paperwork heavy process was the Hamilton County Courthouse itself. The overwhelming burden of paperwork appears to slow the process down and even delay cases on occasion.

On numerous occasions, we were witness to errors in paperwork, and heard stories from the Hamilton County Sheriff representatives of paperwork exchange issues, particularly delays or lost reports being exchanged between agencies. The Officers at the Hamilton County Jail were very vocal about the problems they have with the continued use of fax machines in the current processes when email would provide higher reliability, security, and traceability.

These issues can have ramifications for both the accused awaiting hearings, inmates awaiting trials, and law enforcement  attempting to execute judicial orders.   In the end, it increases workload and cost to the tax payers of Hamilton County.  A successfully implemented county-wide  information sharing and documentation  system  could serve to reduce costs, possible support reducing the "pipeline time" a person spends in jail awaiting trial, and generally improve the administrative processes of the court docket maintenance.

o    Recommendation:  Hamilton County should commission a study to investigate and understand the current information exchange  environment  between all jurisdictions,  the courts, and the penal institutions.  The study should seek to identify areas where modern efficiencies could be enabled and implemented.

An overarching county-wide common judicial information system would go a long way to reducing costs and congestion in the procedural actions of the courts systems.

     Comment: A few cases highlighted the need for Hamilton County and specifically the Chattanooga Police Department and the Hamilton County Sheriff, as the largest law enforcement tenants, to be equipped with multi-lingual officers, especially Spanish speaking officers. One case stood out. It was poorly documented and investigated by the arresting officer simply because the officer could not understand the Spanish-only speaking defendants. The officer did not seek help and none was available at the jail on arrival. On questioning by the Grand Jury, the officer admitted that several charges were not pressed because of the language barrier. The defendants did not understand what they were being charged with. By all appearances, the defendants seemed to be undocumented aliens, and had by their actions, endangered the lives of three minor children under the age of six, one of which received potentially serious head injury. This is unacceptable to the Grand Jury and should be unacceptable to all citizens of Hamilton County. When the language issue was investigated further with other officers on other cases, the procedure that Chattanooga PD seems to be operating by, is to call upon relatives of the defendant when able.  This is not a reliable alternative.  A better solution is needed.  One which the law enforcement agency (Chattanooga PD or Hamilton County Sheriff) can control and reliably depend on when the situation arises.

o    Recommendation:  Hamilton County should assess the need and evaluate  options to support the hiring and training of multi-lingual officers that can provide 24/7 coverage.  This could be implemented as a shared resource county­ wide or as independent jurisdiction  assets as desired.

    Comment: Members of the Grand Jury came to respect the wisdom of our forefathers who developed and implemented the Code of Common Law which prevails in our country.  However, that does not mean that the criminal justice processes and procedures that make it work are not without fault. We all appreciate that an accused person can use the system to their advantage to "buy time" delaying hearings, trials, and procedural motions.  Unfortunately, these actions ripple down to the Grand Jury, as well as across the system in general,often at great expense to the tax payer. An example was a case in which a defendant obviously refused to plead guilty to a charge in Sessions Court, for whatever reason, and by rule the case was bound over to the Grand Jury. This required the arresting officer, in this case a Tennessee Highway Patrol officer, to testify before the Grand Jury. The charge - violation of the seatbelt law. The jury understands that the rules and processes provide for this action and that is the simple beauty of American justice, however the Grand Jury also feels that there needs to be some common sense applied to the burgeoning load of cases that come before the Grand Jury. Perhaps it is time for an alternative, virtual Grand Jury under which certain offenses, especially minor misdemeanors, do not need to be physically heard before the jury, but rather voted on discretely using some secure method. In the example cited, a Highway Patrol Officer was taken off duty to appear before the Grand Jury for less than one minute.  In total, more than 17 persons were involved in the testimony directly, and many more indirectly. This was an expensive proposition. The Grand Jury believes there are cases that could be easily presented to a virtual Grand Jury without impacting the veracity or institution that is the American criminal justice system.  Many States in the United States reserve the use of Grand Juries only for investigation or testimony of serious felony offenses. We would see this as a foundation for this suggestion. These States use a system by which a portfolio called the Information documentation is collected, adjudicated and processed. For example, motor vehicle charges concerning light laws, failure to appear charges, simple DUl's where a qualified Blood Alcohol Report or Substance Analysis report meet state limit statutes, assault charges where there is clear medical evidence of injury, etc. The list could go on. In the end a virtual Grand Jury, using portfolio of Information about a case could operate effectively, and could possibly clear more cases off the docket than a sitting Grand Jury.

o              Recommendation: Hamilton County should petition the State of Tennessee to revise the procedures for the use of Grand Juries specifically with respect to the nature of the cases that are bound over to a Grand Jury. Emphasis should be on reducing the number of misdemeanor charges that are heard. The use of a virtual Grand Jury or the implementation of Information documentation processes could achieve this and save the State and the County money in doing so.

    Comment: The Grand Jury experienced recidivism repeatedly during our term. We recognize this is a serious problem not just in Hamilton County but across the country. We bore witness to several persons whose cases were bound over to the Grand Jury and heard on the same day. This occurred more a few times. And often there were two or three cases by the same defendant. We are not knowledgeable enough in this area to provide any recommendation but we are encouraged by the success of Hamilton County's special Drug Court under Judge Tom Greenholtz and the Mental Health Court under Judge Don Poole to help rehabilitate and potentially alter the course of a person's life. Community Corrections to some extent offers similar hope. These courts are discussed later in this report. These alternative sentencing opportunities provide some hope of breaking the cycle for a few individuals.

Hamilton County CourtHouse

The Courthouse is generally a pleasant place to conduct business and Hamilton County should be proud to have this facility.  It serves the County well. The grand Jury did take note of a few items worth mentioning:

    Comment: Serving during the winter months, Jurors and others who work in the building full time noted that the temperature of the workspaces bordered on unhealthy. Apparently, thermostats do not function well to control heat or air conditioning.  Due to the cold temperatures permeating the work areas, Jurors often wore their coats while hearing testimony and many resorted to wearing gloves as well. This is unsatisfactory. The first-floor area on the North side of the building, near the vending machines, was another particularly cold spot.

    Comment: Security at entry points to the building was a particularly noteworthy issue to many jurors.  It was noted that special procedures seemed to be invoked for certain persons that allowed them to bypass the established security checkpoint screening processes. We believe this is unsatisfactory and an invitation to a potentially serious security incident. The persons noted as bypassing the checkpoint seemed to be lawyers or other workers with familiarity with the operation, but they had no visible badge or other identifying credentials that would indicate their function inside the Courthouse.

The procedure seemed to be operating on facial recognition policy.  A few Grand Jury members have a background in physical security operations and deemed this to be a serious breach of proper physical security protocol.  A special lane could be established for these  individuals, combined with special credentialing, and secondary  screening procedures for these  individuals that expedites their  processing.  It is wholly unacceptable, as untasteful as that may seem to those affected by a change in this procedure, to continue this policy.  Based on the nature of the work conducted inside the Courthouse, placing Judges, juries, clerks, and citizens in jeopardy does not seem prudent.

o      Recommendation:  Eliminate the "free-pass" procedures in use at Hamilton County Courthouse security entry points until a full security review is conducted to include a vulnerability  study.   In the interim, all persons entering the building should be subject to the same security screening procedures regardless of the role inside the building.  The security review should be conducted by a bona fide physical security analysis team.  The Hamilton County Sheriff should recluse himself from this  review.

Grand Jury Room at Courthouse (Room 304)

The Grand Jury Room provided our group with a comfortable working environment.  The corner room is well lit and has full-length windows to give an open feeling.   A large horseshoe shaped table dominates the room where each juror has adequate working space and comfortable high­ backed chairs.  A kitchenette at the far side of the room provides space for a microwave, small refrigerator, and coffee maker.   A nice feature of the room are private restrooms for both men and women.

     Comment: The following recommendations however are made to improve the experience and efficiency of future grand jurors:

o      Recommendation:   When practicable, presentations by witnesses could be improved and enhanced by the addition and use of visual aids.  These could be as simple as maps of the city and county, white boards, or more elaborate technology such as video or Elmo projectors.  Use of visual aids would result in better understanding of places where crimes occur in Hamilton County and a myriad of other details that witnesses  present to the jury.

o      Recommendation:  It would greatly benefit the grand jury  proceedings if they could be provided a simple sheet with pertinent case information that is expected to be on the docket for the day.  A great deal of time is wasted trying to recite officer names, defendant names, and all the charges that are brought against the accused.   It becomes very problematic when a multitude of charges are levied on a defendant, relayed in a non-standard presentation from case-to­ case, and presented in rapid fire style.  It is very challenging as a juror, tasked with ensuring sufficient evidence exists for each charge, to capture this overview information in this manner. It is unfair to the overall process and could very possibly result in unfair outcome for the accused. A simple daily case list with Officer's name, Defendant's name, Date of Offense(s), and List of Charges would solve this problem.

O    Recommendation:  None

Criminal Court Judges

The Grand Jurors were privileged and honored to receive personal one-on-one time with the three criminal court judges of Hamilton County, Judge Barry Steelman (Division I), Judge Tom Greenholtz (Division II), and Judge Don Poole (Division Ill). We appreciate that the judges took time from their schedules to spend time with us, explain their specific duties and unique roles, educate us in the administration of criminal justice, and share their visions for the future of that system in Hamilton County. Hamilton County is quite blessed to have three judges who demonstrated to us both in personal conversation and through our live observation of their courts, the temperament, maturity and knowledge necessary to preside over the criminal courts of the County.

     Each judge exhibited a passion for their job and a passion for community service. Each articulated their commitment to ensuring fairness in the application of justice as should be expected by the citizens of the County.

    We were impressed with how each judge expressed a sense of compassion for the defendants and a real desire to see each try to turn their lives around. But each judge also noted the requirement to balance that compassion with a need for accountability.

    All three judges expressed a willingness to evaluate alternative sentencing options when appropriate to help those that are disadvantaged in our society and appear willing to try to attempt rehabilitation. This was apparent in the discussions with Judge Poole who runs the special mental health court and Judge Greenholtz that oversees the drug court. Both Judges told tales of successes through these methods and expressed a need to expand these functions.

    Comment: We were impressed by Judge Greenholtz clear presentation of the Drug Court. Again, the reality for us was that this special court did not meet any of our preconceived notions. He characterized the "drug problem" as a "social problem" resulting from the disease of addiction, most commonly to alcohol and not narcotic drugs as we would have probably suspected. The role of his drug court is to attempt to address both the treatment and sentencing of these individuals, ideally to help them manage their disease and turn their lives around. He is achieving approximately a 40% success rate. One Juror felt very strongly about the importance of this special court, its ability to truly help people with addictions and help them become a productive citizen.

o      Recommendation: The success of the drug court in Hamilton County deserves to be recognized and replicated with the formation of an additional drug court(s).

The County should explore what is necessary to minimally establish and fund a second drug court and implement it at the earliest opportunity.

    Comment: We were similarly impressed by the Judge Poole's Mental Health Court. There is a thin line between the goals and implementation of Judge Poole's court and Judge Greenholtz court. Like the Drug Court, the Mental Health Court seeks to work with convicted criminals on a regularly planned schedule, with a qualified support team of county leaders, attorneys, mental health professionals, and law enforcement officials to help them improve the quality of their lives.  In our conversation with Judge Poole he strongly suggested and claims research would indicate as well that upwards of 35-40 percent of cases that come before him involve persons with some sort of mental illness. This would mean that a similar number of cases are coming before Judge Steelman and Judge Greenholtz. Judge Poole is experiencing about a 40% success rate of his participants as well, and he attributes this to the outstanding collaboration and effort put forth by the strong support network that truly makes it all happen.

o      Recommendation:  The success of the mental health in Hamilton County deserves to be recognized and replicated with the formation  of an additional mental health court(s).  The County should explore what is necessary to minimally establish and fund a second mental health court and implement it at the  earliest  opportunity.

    Comment: We note however that both Judge Poole and Hamilton County Deputy Chief Joseph Fowler lamented the fact the Moccasin Bend Mental Health Institute, the nearest state run hospital, cannot service the needs of Hamilton County. The hospital, with only 150 beds, serves the population of 52 eastern Tennessee counties and must limit its service to cases of "serious mental illness" only.  As a result, many defendants, inmates, and others that must receive psychiatric evaluations or in-patient care because of court orders, must pay for private evaluations or be transported elsewhere.  The Hamilton County Sheriff is tasked with transporting detainees to other state run mental health facilities located in Nashville, Bolivar, and Memphis, in addition to Moccasin Bend.  In 2016, a total of 1,078 detainees required transportation to mental hospitals somewhere in the state. These transport operations required the services of 2,093 corrections officers, took 3,201 hours of labor to complete, and required 45,423 vehicle miles oftransportation. 1 These are significant numbers. They represent significant cost to the tax payer.

Chief Fowler sadly conveyed his feelings about how the lack of mental health services in Hamilton County unfortunately turns people who need medical help into criminals.

People who should be in hospitals, but either cannot afford private care and are rejected by state hospitals due to limited beds and services, instead are turned over to jailers.  Jails are not going to help these people. Rather their conditions will likely worsen.

In Tennessee, for the entire state, there are only four mental health hospitals run by the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. Combined, these facilities have only 562 beds.

o             Recommendation:  Hamilton County should aggressively petition the State of Tennessee to develop a plan to construct additional mental health facilities to serve the citizens of this state.  One facility must be in an area serving Hamilton County.  52 counties are too many to be serviced by one facility (i.e., Moccasin Bend) which is more than double the number of counties servicing next highest hospital at Bolivar (25 counties).   Many populations studies note that southeast Tennessee and middle Tennessee are the fastest growing areas of the state.  A new mental health facility in southeast Tennessee  is long overdue and sorely needed.

    Comment: One juror was very impressed by the success of Hamilton County's specialty or treatment courts and suggested that all elected judges in the County should be required to establish and preside over such a court. It is suggested that other treatment court opportunities might exist with the Veteran, homeless, gang,or female populations of the community. Typically, these courts meet once per week. The key to success of these courts is organizing the unique support network of counselors and administrators that understand the challenges the specific groups face.

Juvenile Court Judge

The Grand Jurors visited the courtroom of Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge Robert Philyaw. We are deeply appreciative of the time Judge Philyaw spent with us explaining the somewhat complex world of juvenile justice.  Without question, Judge Philyaw demonstrated his great concern for the integrity of the family and his desire to protect the most vulnerable victims while trying to ensure that families can stay together.

     Comment: Judge Philyaw expressed most compassionately the fact that Hamilton County can provide only a pre-trial Youth Detention Center.  Should a juvenile  require actual detention post-trial, they must be sent to Youth Detention Centers (YDC)  remotely situated from Chattanooga, specifically Taft YDC in Pikeville or Mountain View YDC in Dandridge.  Under these circumstances, it becomes extremely difficult for families to participate in treatment plans for these at-risk juveniles. This often creates or compounds problems for the juvenile.  Judge Philyaw strongly recommends that the State of Tennessee address this shortfall by building a YDC closer to the Chattanooga area. He supported this argument by describing how statistically a distinct trend is emerging toward a younger demographic for the criminally accused and convicted population.

o      Recommendation:    The State of Tennessee Department of Children's Services should assess and evaluate the construction of full service Youth Detention Center to serve southeastern Tennessee counties.

Hamilton County Jail

The Grand Jury spent a full day touring the Hamilton County Jail. We were significantly impressed by the cadre of Hamilton County officers we met including Deputy Chief Joseph Fowler, Captain Gene Coppinger, Captain John Swope, and Lieutenant Rex Minton. All officers and staff we encountered were professional and appeared competent to meet the tasks assigned. It is our opinion that this team of dedicated professionals however has its hands full managing the jail in a safe, secure, and efficient manner. We observed many issues that raised concern with many of us, and I need to repeat, we are not trained penal facility inspectors. For many of us this was the first time inside a jailhouse of this nature. The key issues we observed can be classified into two broad areas of concern: building issues and staffing issues. This Grand Jury is not the first to note these conditions. The Hamilton County Jail has failed the annual no-notice inspection by the Tennessee Corrections Institute six of the last seven years.  This is very common apparently, but the Hamilton County jail seems to perpetually revolve around two central deficiencies, overcrowding and understaffing.

Building Issues:

    Comment: The physical layout of the jail is poor. It offers poor sight lines to corrections officers adding to the labor-intensive effort required to staff the facility.  The impression most jurors left with was that each floor of the jail was its own operations center . Poor communications seemed to be the norm rather than the exception.  We heard of several workarounds to ensure reasonable degree of safety. The "high rise" nature of the jail spread across six floors is unsatisfactory. The fact that jail services are scattered on various floors of the jail is problematic because it creates additional labor to transport prisoners between the floors to attend to medical, counseling, religious, or recreational services.

    Comment: The jail is seriously oversubscribed for the number of beds available. Per Tennessee Corrections Institute, the jail is certified for 505 inmates.  The average daily population in 2016 was 573.4    On the day we visited, the population was 568.  In several cell blocks, inmates were observed sleeping on the floor in "bed boxes' for lack of a better  term.

o      Recommendation: As unpopular as the idea is with most politicians, Hamilton County needs a new jail to handle the expected criminal population of Hamilton County in 2030 and beyond.  In a debate between new schools or new jails, the schools will win most of the time, but the debate must take place.  A study should be conducted to properly determine the size of the new jail and whether the current jail can serve any useful purpose going forward.

o      Recommendation: We agree with a prior Concurrent Grand Jury that assessed in December 2014 that a modern, campus-style facility would seem to be the best solution for a new jai l.5     Modern jail structures are designed for efficient use of staff which  might provide a tradeoff of some magnitude with the longer-term cost of increased staffing at the Hamilton County jail.   Finding property to build on which affords the County the option to expand in future years might be a near-term cost saving approach.

o      Recommendation: A new facility could invest in increased educational and counseling opportunities  offered  as additional  alternative  sentencing options under which inmates could learn a trade skill that may benefit them once returned to society  and the job  market.

Staffing Issues:

    Comment: The jail is significantly and in our opinion dangerously undermanned. While the appearance of a controlled facility was present during our tour there was a clear tension that things could change at any moment. The jail is oversubscribed with inmates, over 568 on the day of our visit, and understaffed with corrections officers. Typically, 26-28 officers are on duty in the jail, managing inbounds, outbounds, transfers, in-house shuttling between floors for medical, recreation, and counseling services. The nature of the inmates, due to gang affiliations, suicide watch, contraband sweeps, and other activities means that managing this situation is clearly a minute-by­ minute proposition. Suicide watch inmates require a surveillance check every 15- minutes. We could imagine a minor situation escalating quickly requiring a concerted response. By all indications, this is an unsafe situation for the officers and inmates. The Tennessee Corrections Institute recommends that the jail needs an additional 55 staff. None have been authorized. In fact, going back almost 20 years, there has been no increase in staffing level at the jail.  In 2016, there were 152 assigned staff at the jail.  In 1998, Chattanooga Times Free Press research showed that 153 staff were assigned to the jail.6 The only remedy available to management is to authorize overtime. While this may be a financially acceptable alternative to new hires, it creates additional unsafe conditions due to an overarching demoralizing effect on the staff resulting in high turnover of staff putting lower experienced staff into dangerous situations.  Ultimately, excessive fatigue and burnout will wear down even the most ardent corrections officers .

    Comment:  In discussions with some of the corrections officers while at the jail, we learned of the continuing problems of inmate-on-inmate violence, and more disturbingly, inmate-on-corrections officer violence.  While understanding the former because of overcrowding,the latter is felt to be a condition related to the understaffing situation which creates a sense of opportunity for an inmate. Conducting our own research, we learned that in 2016, 411 separate instances of violence occurred in the jail, 236 of which were inmate-on corrections officer attacks, 40 of which involved weapons possessed by the inmates.7

     Comment: While touring the jail, several inmates on work details outside their cells were observed wearing ear buds and obviously listening to some sort of portable music device. We found this strange considering the extent to which the corrections officers are vigilant for contraband items. These music devices would seem to constitute contraband.  We never got an acceptable or rational answer to the question of why the inmates had them, other than learning that they were likely purchased via the sanctioned commissary service available to inmates in the jail.

o      Recommendation:  The staffing of corrections officers at the jail must be increased immediately, with full time employees, not additional overtime employees. This cannot wait. It is a safety and security issue.

Silverdale Detention Facilities

The Grand Jury spent a half-day touring the Silverdale facility.  Our tour was led by Mr. Clarence Potts, Assistant Warden and employee of CoreCivic, assisted by Mr. Jason Clark, Corrections Superintendent and employee of Hamilton County, along with Mr. John Waters, Chief of Security with CoreCivic, providing escort throughout the visit. Each of these men, as well as other employees we met along the way in the various cell blocks and service areas graciously answered all our questions and provided amplifying details.  At the end of the tour, we did have the opportunity to briefly meet Mr. Chris Howard, Silverdale Warden and CoreCivic employee.

     Comment: Our overall impressions of the Silverdale facility was that it was generally well-maintained and appeared in to be operating in an orderly manner. The Grand Jury did not believe any major improvements are needed in this facility now or in the near future. Services to the inmates appeared adequate and of acceptable quality.

     Comment: There did not appear to be any clear symptoms of overcrowding.  Female detention areas appeared more crowded than male areas primarily since it is the primary pre-trial holding facility for all Hamilton County female inmates.  One juror felt strongly that taking female detainees pre-trail to Silverdale before they have time to make bail is unfortunate.  Hamilton County jail needs to provide holding space for this population of inmates, to do less is gross example of gender inequality.

     Comment: One male cell block had recently been damaged by inmates and was undergoing repair and sanitation efforts to return it to serviceable use at the time of our visit. This did require some inmates to be reassigned temporarily, but did not appear to create any stress on space within the facility.

    Comment: To return the damaged male cell block to operation, some fairly strong sanitizing chemicals had been recently used that caused burning sensations to the eyes and noses of some jurors during the tour. This was accompanied by some exceptionally strong and unpleasant odors. One juror questioned whether the situation was environmentally safe and would meet OSHA standards for working or living conditions. While this was obviously an unfortunate incident at Silverdale, the CoreCivic contract should be verified to determine if this remedial action met standards in terms of providing a safe, environmentally clean operating space for employees and inmates. If these conditions persisted for more than 24-hours, many jurors felt it would have been warranted to remove all inmates and employees from that area until it was safe to return.

     Comment: Mr. Potts and Mr. Waters commented about the efforts that have been taken to control the ingress of contraband to the facility by persons throwing items over the fences and walls of the facility. Large nets have been installed and landscape zones cleared to control the problem.  It would seem prudent to also investigate a larger setback distance for pedestrians to the perimeter fences of the facility.

    Comment: Some of the older cell blocks had control areas and workspaces for the CoreCivic employee corrections officers that could only be described as depressing. These areas exhibited poor lighting, control stations various states of disrepair, and generally uninspiring conditions.  While functional, the Grand Jury feels that these working conditions can lead to poor morale and generally impact the performance of CoreCivic employees.

    Comment:  It is the opinion of the Grand Jury that the education facility at Silverdale is due a serious updating. Cursory examination of materials on shelves and walls indicated numerous out-of-date items. Clearly not a major priority, but based on comments from the staff that participation has been dwindling in recent years, freshening up available materials might contribute to greater interest and use of the services provided.

    Comment: In parallel with the classroom refresh, the education facility should reassess its core programs (or curriculum) being offered. This facility and its programs are at the forefront of helping inmates rehabilitate and hopefully return to society with work and coping skills that will prevent them from returning to jail.  As noted earlier, Silverdale is experiencing a changing demographic in the population of its inmates to that of a younger group. The education center specialist noted that they don't get as many participants in their programs as in prior years. This has been a downward trend for some time. The result has been a reduction in staffing to support both the education and counseling programs. From a previous high of seven staff, the program runs today with just two, one education specialist and one counselor.  If Hamilton County is serious about claiming Silverdale provides a rehabilitation environment, then it must address the deficiencies in programs and staffing.

o             Recommendation:  Hamilton County must make it a priority to rejuvenate the education and counseling programs at Silverdale addressing the needs of the changing demographic of inmates. This program must identify needs and plan to increase staffing levels of both education and counseling functions as new programs are rolled out.

    Comment:  We were very surprised by the lack of security at the education building and specifically the lack of security present during actual classroom sessions with inmates. According to Mr. Harold Morris, Hamilton County Education Specialist, who provided us with an overview of the program, no security was present in the classroom during sessions.  This was seconded by Ms. Teresa Bragg,the Alcohol and Drug Counselor at the facility.  According to Mr. Waters, Chief of Security, this was normal, and offered  that a quick reaction team could respond to the building if needed.  This seems somewhat insufficient.  We are concerned for the safety of the education and counseling staff to be alone in a classroom session with conceivably 30 inmates and no security staff.  It does not seem prudent to operate under these circumstances.  By comparison, the Grand Jury noted that a similar operation at the Hamilton County juvenile  detention facility operated on a ratio of one corrections officer to five juvenile inmates, which seemed to be an appropriate security posture.

o      Recommendation:  The Hamilton County Corrections Superintendent  should reassess CoreCivic's requirement to provide security assets to the education facility during active classroom sessions.   If necessary, modify the contract to accommodate an increase in the number of resources needed.

    Comment: The Grand Jury is aware of current National discussion surrounding the use of private contract corrections and detention facility operators to run public prisons. The Federal Department of Justice announced in August 2016 that it was phasing out the use of private prison companies for the use of Federal inmates.8  Likewise, the Department of Homeland Security announced plans to similarly review and possibly stop the use of private immigration detention centers. These decisions are likely to change depending on the plans of the new Trump Administration.  The Federal government concerns revolve around increased violence, poor conditions, lack of evidence to support cost-reduction, and overall concerns about safety and security. They note that increased oversight by the government is required.

Private prisons have a somewhat dark underside. They are profit-motivated. This often comes with specific contract clauses that reward them for holding increased numbers of inmates. Typically, a private contract facility has an occupancy quota to maintain, a contract line item that pays them for higher occupancy rates, sometimes even requiring 100%. As a result, private prison companies like CoreCivic (previously known as Corrections Corporation of America) are huge donors to political campaigns that stress tough on crime and immigration stances.  In the 30+ years that private companies have dominated the industry, incarceration rates in the United States have risen by more than 500%.9 They are not necessarily interested in seeing inmates returned to the streets, but rather retained in detention.  They earn profits when their beds are full.

These motivations may be contrary to the community's desire to see inmates rehabilitated and returned to society as contributing citizens.  It is contrary to achieving lowered levels of recidivism within the criminal population.  It is contrary to the work of judges in drug and mental health courts and the work of prison educators and counselors. Locally, the Federal government concern should be shared by Hamilton County for these same reasons. While it is unlikely that any changes will be made to CoreCivic contract, which was renewed in 2016 for approximately $13-14 Million per year, Hamilton County should address the question of government oversight to ensure complete compliance with the contract terms.

Juvenile Detention Center

The Grand Jury spent an afternoon touring the Hamilton County Juvenile Detention Facility with our guides Mr. Antinio L. Petty, Court Director of the Juvenile Court, and Mr. Martin Harrelson, Assistant Superintendent of Detention.

We were all very impressed by this facility.  It was clean, well-organized and gave the appearance of being operated efficiently.  On the day of our visit, 15 juveniles were in detention.

During our visit, the detainees were in the educational classroom attending "school."  From our vantage point, the classroom appeared to be well-supplied with computers, books, and other educational materials. We could not assess actual content however. We were impressed though by the interaction of the facility corrections officers in the detainee's classroom activities.  It was visible to us that the three officers inside the classroom were actively participating in the activity the "students" were engaged in. This is a pretty powerful message of support and concern for the future of these detainees.

Community Corrections Program

We were privileged to receive a presentation by Ms. Valda Cowan, Director of Hamilton County's Community Corrections Program. She provided a brief overview ofthe program and its four primary alternative sentencing options for non-violent criminal offenders.

It was obvious from her presentation that Ms. Cowan is extremely knowledgeable about her job and she exhibited a sincere passion for the task and its responsibilities. She appeared deeply committed to working with offenders placed in her programs in the hope of seeing these

people succeed and "graduate" back to society. She discussed the challenging decisions her organization makes each day concerning the lives of the offenders placed in Community Corrections programs. She is proud ofthe high degree of accountability expected of participants allowed into the programs.

Ms. Cowan shared some the financial facts of her program and proudly stated the low daily cost per offender in her programs which ranged from just over $7.00 per day for those in the full electronic monitoring, in-house arrest program down to a little over $1.50 for those on probation programs. These numbers, she pointed out, provide great value to the tax payers of Hamilton County when compared to the over $76.00 per day cost of an inmate at the Hamilton County jail.

General Comments

    Comment: It was reported to us by Silverdale staff, the Hamilton County Jail staff, and Juvenile Court detention staff that they all observe a change in the demographics of the county's criminally inclined, trending toward a younger age. They attribute the slow decline and interest in facility education and counseling programs, as currently offered, to this trend. The Grand Jury feels that there is a distinct need to re-evaluate these programs and account for this new demographic.  If we are to believe that there is hope for rehabilitation for some of these inmates, addressing the fundamental tools of that process is warranted. The County should engage with behavioral scientists and educators to develop new programs and options for Silverdale, the juvenile detention facility, and the county jail to re-energize the detainee population.

     Comment: County Commissioners, Judges, and Magistrates should be required to tour of all Hamilton County criminal justice facilities and services and bear witness to the same experience as a Grand Jury. This should be required indoctrination training associated with acceptance of one of these positions. It would allow each of these persons to better understand, discuss, and make decisions regarding the facilities, the services, and associated financial expenditures.

     Comment: Middle Schools and High Schools should be encouraged to tour Silverdale and Hamilton County Jail as both a deterrent to potential future criminal behavior but also to encourage a rewarding career in criminal justice.  Most of the persons we encountered on our tours would make outstanding role models for the youth of our community.


The members of the Concurrent Grand Jury wish to collectively thank the following people and organizations for making our time in this role both educational and enjoyable. It would have been a much more difficult tenure without the support and contributions ofthese people.

Hamilton County Criminal Courts:

     Honorable Barry Steelman, Judge, Criminal Court, Division I

     Honorable Tom Greenholtz, Judge, Criminal Court, Division II

     Honorable Don W. Poole, Judge, Criminal Court, Division Ill Hamilton County District Attorney's  Office:

     Mr. Jerry Sloan, Prosecutor, Assistant District Attorney Office

     Mr. Bill West, Prosecutor, Assistant District Attorney Office

     Sgt. Kevin Akins, Chattanooga  Police Department, Liaison to District Attorney Office

     Sgt. Jeff Readon, Chattanooga  Police Department, Liaison to District Attorney Office

     Mr. Don Kading, Volunteer Coordinator, Liaison to District Attorney Office Silverdale Detention Facility:

     Mr. Chris Howard, Warden, CoreCivic Corporation

     Mr. Jason E. Clark, Corrections Superintendent,  Hamilton County

     Mr. Clarence Potts, Assistant Warden, CoreCivic Corporation

     Mr. John Waters, Chief of Security, CoreCivic Corporation

     Mr. Harold Morris, Educational Specialist, Hamilton County Department of Corrections

     Ms. Teresa Bragg, Education and Drug Counselor, Hamilton County Department of Corrections

Hamilton County Juvenile Court and Youth Detention Facility:

     Honorable Robert D. Philyaw, Judge, Juvenile Court

     Mr. Antinio L. Petty, Court Director, Juvenile Court

     Mr. Martin Harrington, Assistant Superintendent of Detention Hamilton County Sheriff's Office Correct ions Division:

     Deputy Chief Joseph Fowler, Jail Operations

     Captain Gene Coppinger, Chief of Operations, Jail Operations

     Captain John Swope, Support Services Supervisor, Jail Operations

     Lieutenant Rex Minton, Security Supervisor, Jail Operations

     Mr. Wayne Johnson, Counselor, Jail Operations

     Chaplain John Waters, Chaplain and Counselor, Jail Operations

     Mr. J. A. Hughes, Food Supervisor, Jail Operations Community Corrections Program:

     Ms. Valda Cowan, Director, Hamilton County Community Corrections Program Very Special Thanks:

We reserve a very special thank you for our Concurrent Jury Foreman. From the very first day, Jimmy made us feel at home and part of his family.  He provided a warm cheerful smile as he delivered daily pep talks and encouragement that ensured no donut was left unattended.  His unique perspectives on the role of the Grand Jury, the greater Chattanooga community, and the characters that comprise the criminal justice system allowed us to better appreciate our contributions.  We were very blessed to have been of part of his world on this journey.

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