Concurrent Grand Jury Calls For Additional Mental Health Facility; Cites Overcrowding, Heat Problems At County Jail

Monday, February 19, 2018

The Concurrent Hamilton County Grand Jury, in a final report, called for an additional mental health facility here.


 The panel noted that the Moccasin Bend faility only has 150 beds and serves 52 counties.


The Concurrent Grand Jury also described overcrowded holding cells at the Hamilton County Jail as well as very high temperatures on the upper floors of the jail.


A number of grand juries have recommended construction of a new jail.


Here is the full report of the Concurrent Grand Jury:


The members of the Concurrent Grand Jury consider it an honor and a privilege to serve the community and citizens of Hamilton County, TN.

While most of us had entered this obligation with reservations. It has been interesting and eye opening to see and experience the Criminal Justice component of our community. The dedicated men and women of the court system, law enforcement and corrections have our full support, respect and gratitude. So much incredible work done by so many people.


As part of our responsibilities, this report will contain our thoughts, opinions, concerns and observations. Also included in our report is the mandatory reporting on the County Jail and Juvenile Detention Center, Silverdale Corrections Facility and Community Corrections. Most of the opinions, thoughts, and recommendations are coming from people that are experiencing these things for the first time. The individuals of our Concurrent Grand Jury are from various backgrounds who have come together to give different perspectives and listed below are what we feel as a team are the most important.

Grand Jury and General Recommendati ons

   We recommend that some kind of scheduling system be put into place for officers to come in to present their reports in a more efficient time frame. There are many cases that are ready to be presented yet the officers are not available to present them therefore it is backing up the court system. We also feel that the officer that was on scene and wrote up the report should be the officer to present the case.

There are times when reports are read by another officer and if we in the grand jury have questions, they are either unanswered or we have to put the case to the side to call in the officer that wrote up the report.


   Some officers are hard to hear when they are presenting their case. We in the grand jury suggest that a microphone for the officers be

added and speakers in the back of the room so every detail in the case may be heard.


   We also recommend that the jurors chairs have wheels on them. Persons with back, leg, hip pain or problems have a hard time pushing these chairs without wheels to move away from the desk.


   Misdemeanor cases seem to clog the system and slow the whole court process. We feel that certain misdemeanor cases should not be allowed to be bound over to the grand jury such as light law, speeding, lane usage, failure to appeared. With these cases clogging the system it wastes the states time and money as well as overtaking the more serious cases waiting to be heard by the grand jury.

Hamilton County Courthouse

Hamilton County Courthouse and Grand Jury was an exceptional experience. All the staff, officers, judges, District Attorneys and Foreman welcomed us with open arms and were there for any questions we had. Although it was a great experience there were a few things that we seen that could have been better.


   Upon entering the courthouse the first thing you come to is security. One major concern was the number of people that come in and were able to bypass security altogether. While the security check only took a few minutes at most to get through those that were able to just skip through had no badge visible as to who they were or what they do there in the courthouse. The people bypassing the checkpoints were among lawyers, clerks, and other courthouse workers. As they would go around everyone and setting the metal detector off not once were they asked to stop or put their things bags, brief cases, purses or anything else through the scanner. From a security standpoint this is a major security breach and as much as we would like to believe that every working person is "safe" you ca never be too careful.

   One other concern were the numerous times there were errors in the paperwork and paperwork exchange issues. While we understand there was a newer employee writing up the paperwork there were countless times that it would have the name correct but the wrong charges and report or vise versa. These errors cause us to have to forget everything that we heard while it was being presented and have to wait to hear it until it was typed up correctly which delays the court process.

Judges and Courtrooms

We had the opportunity to spend some time in the each criminal courtrooms and listen in on some cases. We were all very impressed with how each judge was very patient, compassionate and fair with each and every individual that came before them. Each judge made sure that every accused person understood their charges and their sentencing. We were also very impressed with the judge's desire to see each individual try to turn their life around ensuring a balance of compassion and accountability . We do although have a few comments and recommendations.


   While having the opportunity to sit in on some cases in the criminal courtrooms it seemed there was a lot of distraction with unrelated conversation, lawyers talking with clients and people coming in and out of the courtrooms.


   The Concurrent Grand Jury recommends that the judges should have to tour the jails periodically to evaluate conditions, especially with the overcrowding. This may better help with the decision for alternative sentencing such as probation, drug court or mental health court.


   Drug court and Mental Health court seem to be effective and working well and give the individuals the accountability, guidance and opportunity to turn their lives around. We do think there needs to be more resources for those individuals such as schooling, counseling,

employment and housing to get on the right track while working their way back into society.


   As far as mental health, Hamilton County needs another mental health facility other than Moccasin Bend Mental Institute. Moccasin Bend only has 150 beds to serve 52 counties in eastern Tennessee and therefore has an extremely long wait list. An overabundance of detainees have to be transported to other mental health hospitals which uses a lot of time, funds and labor to complete.


Our tours through the County Jail, Silverdale and the Juvenile Court and Corrections were eye opening for all of us and will stay with us forever.

Hamilton County Jail

   Some of the holding areas were overcrowded with inmates packed in a holding cell while nearby holding cells were vacant. This overcrowding of a cell could become a safety risk to inmates as well as the officers. Cramming men in a cell like a can of sardines per say, sleeping on the floor, basically on top of each other with no personal space can cause a great deal of agitation and therefore become a

risk of inmate on inmate fights causing injury on inmates and officers.


  There is a great concern with the fifth and sixth floors where the temperature bordered on unhealthy. Inmates on both of these floors were fully dressed and wrapped tightly in their blankets shivering, not including the officers who were wearing jackets. Just the brief walkthrough we had taken through those floors, many of us had jackets on, had us so cold we were shivering and our hands, feet and faces were like ice. These conditions can cause illness which will cost more taxpayer money to treat these inmates. The jail itself is obsolete and not well purposed.

   The county jail in general was excessively dirty. Guard stations and intake area were extremely cluttered. Floors, walls, toilets and showers appeared to not have been cleaned in some time which is another health concern to inmates and officers.


   Surprisingly the kitchen along with storage room, floors, walls, ovens, refrigerators and vent hoods were very clean. We were able to try some of the dinner rolls that were made from scratch by inmate kitchen staff which  were astonishingly good. We were impressed with how much of the food is made from scratch in the facility saving money on premade goods. The menus we were able to review implemented the food groups that were needed for healthy nutrition. Besides the main menu there were also alternative options for diabetics, certain religions etc.


   We were informed of one inmate in particular that had been in the county jail for over five years. This inmate continued postponing his trial to put off being sent to prison. A few examples of the ways he was postponing trial are as follows; at the beginning claiming he was mentally ill then after being placed in a mental facility he wrote to the judge that he did not have as bad of a mental illness as presumed. Then going on to firing two different lawyers the weeks of his trial stating they were not representing him how they should. There should be a mandatory cut off time where they have to continue on to trial. Inmates putting off their trials like this multiple times is costing Hamilton County taxpayers and keeping jails overcrowded.

Juvenile  Detention Center

   During our tour through the Juvenile Detention Center many of us found it very depressing. Sleeping quarters were not clean, covered in gang slang that needed to be painted over.

   We were thoroughly impressed and enthused with the classroom for the juveniles to stay current in their school work and not fall behind in their studies.


   Many of us feel these juveniles need more counseling than what is being provided. A lot of them keep coming back because they feel safe there. They need food and shelter. While they have done something wrong to be arrested, most of them made a choice to commit a crime so they could come here. These children should be held accountable for the choices they made but the parents need to be looked at as well.


   We were deeply saddened by a story of a young boy eating in the cafeteria stated that it was the best meal he had had in a very long time. Also another story of an 11 year old boy. This young boy came to the gate around dinner time and was asking for food because he was hungry. After being turned away he went to a nearby business and busted out a window and waited there on the curb for police to arrive. After police arrived and transported him to the juvenile center he stated he did it because he was hungry and was told that since he was not an "inmate" they could not give him any food and he also wanted a warm place to feel safe. This could have been prevented if someone at least given him something to eat and sent him on his way or called someone to help him. As a community we are failing these younger generations by showing them we don't care. These parents of these children need to be held accountable for the neglect of their children. Our younger generations are joining gangs so they "can be taken care of' and is happening more and more everyday. We need to show these children we do care and help feed, clothe, teach and keep them safe.


   Those juveniles that commit these crimes need to be shown what can really happen if they continue down the path they are on. Many states have a scared straight program and something similar would be beneficial in Hamilton County to show these juveniles jail, prison, or even death is not the road they want to take.

Silverdale Detention Center

The Concurrent Grand Jury spent half a day touring the Silverdale Detention Center. Mr. Chris Howard, warden and core civic employee, and Mr. Clarence Potts, assistant warden, led our tour through the facility.


   Upon first entering the facility it was clean and staff was very friendly . We learned that Silverdale is run by a for profit" company by the name of Core Civic, previously known as CCA.


   As we began our tour through the women's block we were met with a few female inmates walking in the halls and in and out of the library room without an officer. This was a great concern with the fact that they could easily do something they shouldn't  and were right next to the entrance/exit of the facility.


   The women's cell block did not appear overcrowded. Most female inmates were just laying around or watching t.v. like it was a vacation spot. We are aware that they are not vacationing but feel as though they should be doing something somewhat productive; cleaning, reading, class, exercising etc.


   As we continued on with our tour we stopped at the classroom on the women's block and were surprised to see that there were 20+ inmates with one teacher and no officers. This was unbelievable

since the number of inmates without an officer could easily take over the instructor and raises an enormous- safety concern.


   Upon entering the men's cell block it appeared that there was special preparation and somewhat staged with how inmates were cleaning and the appearance of the cells and cell blocks.

   In all of the men's cell blocks there was an extreme amount of repairs and upgrades needed. Two of the cell blocks systems such as the control panels not were not working so each and every cell had to be opened and closed by key. This could be a safety hazard to not only inmates but the officers. Every officer having a key is a safety

concern and security risk.


   The officer to inmate ratio on male side is 1 officer to 64 inmates and female 2 officers to 256 inmates. With the officers being so few to inmates we feel that the cell blocks could easily be taken over by inmates at any given time. Officer to inmate needs to be increased immediately.


   More classroom resources are needed and the education specialist is in agreement. Inmates are no longer able to get their GED while incarcerated due to no longer having a contract with Chattanooga State. The materials in the classroom are outdated and inmate's signing up for the classes is excessively decreasing. More resources are needed to help inmates prepare to return society and be successful and decrease the number of repeat offenders.


   More medical personnel is needed in the facility. Many inmates are putting in request for medical and never getting seen. Although these inmates have committed a crime they are still humans and have rights and should be treated as such.


   Many times throughout our tour of the facility we heard over and over that Core Civic is a for profit company . Hearing Mr. Howard continually comment and brag about being for profit and cut corners to be able to profit more is very concerning. We feel that our jails should NOT be run or overseen by a for profit company but rather run by Hamilton County just like our County Jail. Core Civic is not necessarily in seeing inmates return to society, they want to keep them detained since the more beds that are full the more money they are making. Cutting corners such as maintenance, poor conditions and most concerning medical is an overall concern.


   We are flabbergasted by the way medical concerns have been put off leaving inmates suffering. Not giving medications for illness or medical diagnosis such as diabetes, no medical attention for broken bones, medical requests being denied and overlooked and some causing death is upsetting and a concern for everyone.


   Another main area in the facility needing upgrades or new construction is the intake area. This area is not only used for intake but also for those inmates being released and inmates being transported to court. Intake is a fairly small area and is easy for it to be overcrowded. While in the intake area the cells were completely full and corrections officers were moving quickly to get everything done and with the 14 of us, plus the warden and assistant warden on the tour, there was hardly any room left in the intake area.


   This facility is dangerously undermanned. It was brought up many times that they were understaffed but we never received a reason as to why. It was brought to our attention from a Core Civic employee that there is a high turnover rate and overtime is mandatory. With corrections officers working this mandatory overtime every day, due

to not enough officers, raises the risk of those officers becoming more fatigued, less aware and burned out. Officers becoming more fatigued, less aware and burnout put all the staff and inmates into possible dangerous situations.


   While on jury duty we were presented a case on a former Core Civic employee, corrections office, smuggling contraband into Silverdale. She was terminated but during the case being read the officer stated that somehow Core Civic overlooked her prior record on her background check. This seems to be a high case of negligence on Core Civics part.


Community  Corrections


Mrs. Valda Cowen, Director of Hamilton County's Community Corrections Program, came to the Grand Jury Room to give her presentation on the program. She provided us with a brief overview of the program and its alternative sentencing programs. While Mrs. Cowen gave her presentation it was obvious that she is knowledgeable, compassionate, and loved the program. Information she gave also included financial facts of the program, electronic monitoring, in house arrest and probation.


   We all as a whole feel that the Community Corrections program is well run and is working. The individuals in this program are held accountable for themselves, getting and keeping a job, continuing education and becoming the best person they can be.


   A plus side to this well run program is it helps to keep our jails from becoming so overcrowded with nonviolent inmates.

   One thing that we would like to see is some sort of rehabilitation housing for sex offenders.

In conclusion we would like to thank each judge who took the time to come down and explain their duties and answer any questions. Mr. Jerry Sloan for explaining each and every charge that came before us so that we could understand and for his wonderful and funny stories and jokes to lighten some of the somber cases we were presented. A very special thank you to our foreman Mr. Jimmy Anderson for his generosity, hospitality and making us feel like part of his family. Mr. Anderson greeted us every morning with a warm caring smile and a positive pep talk to get the day started.

The Concurrent Grand Jury, serving during the September- December, 2017 heard witnesses testify on 311 cases.

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