Several deficiencies were found during an inspection by the Tennessee Corrections Institute of the Bradley County Jail. Officials said most of the deficiencies are a result of continued overcrowding coupled with understaffing in the jail.
On the issue of overcrowding Sheriff Steve Lawson said he has worked diligently to reduce the inmate population. Upon taking office on Sept. 1, 2018, the inmate population was 581.
The jail is only considered a 510-bed facility. At the time of the inspection, the inmate population was 527. Of those, 137 are Tennessee Department of Corrections State Inmates.
Sheriff Lawson said, "Since Sept. 1 I have consistently asked the Department of Corrections to take back some of these state inmates to help alleviate our overcrowding problems, and those requests have fallen on deaf ears. I do not understand how the state of Tennessee can refuse to take their own inmates, while at the same time docking us negatively on an inspection for having too many of them. This continues to be a problem that I hope will be addressed in the future, otherwise, our overcrowding will simply continue.
"Understaffing has presented a number of challenges as well. Proper documentation and internal inspections were scrutinized and found to be insufficient. The inspection noted that only 65 of 100 positions needed to properly staff the jail have been filled."
The report notes, "The current facility correctional officer staffing levels are at 65 of 100 available positions. This number is not sufficient to perform and maintain the daily security functions of the facility. This is evident by the number of deficiencies listed in the report that are directly related to the officers not being present and or able to perform these functions.
"Most of the deficiencies listed in the report are due in large part to the continued overcrowding in male and female inmate housing areas along with a shortage of staff at times to fill all the designated posts on a consistent basis."
Sheriff Lawson said, "When you have only one officer responsible for 2 or 3 pods at the time, things are unfortunately going to get missed. Bottom line, we have to get to a proper staffing level if we ever hope to achieve better results.
"This is why I have laid out a four-year plan, worked with the County Commission to address corrections salaries, and requested funding for additional corrections officer positions in the next budget. Is it still where we need to be, no. But it is a much-needed step in the right direction."
The inspection noted several points of improvement over previous years. It says, "All of the inmate housing area day rooms and cell areas were very clean. The Sheriff, Captain, Lieutenant, and staff were very professional during the inspection and are to be commended on the cleanliness of the facility."
A follow-up inspection is scheduled for Aug. 15, after which a final inspection report will be presented to the state Board of Control.
Sheriff Lawson concluded, "We have already begun to take steps to address several of the maintenance and documentation issues listed in the inspection, and will be ready on August 15th. While I am pleased with the improvements that have been made thus far, it is obvious that we have more work to do. Rome was not built in a day, and I am grateful for the team in Corrections, who with me, are committed to getting better each day."
The TCI Inspection Report is available by request from the Tennessee Corrections Institute.