March opening for Carter jail

John Thompson • Jan 11, 2012 at 10:24 PM

ELIZABETHTON — Carter County Sheriff Chris Mathes said the new $26 million Carter County Jail will be placed in operation in March. The sheriff said he also is pleasantly surprised with the high quality of the recruits for the new guard positions at the 302-bed facility.

“I feel strongly we are going to be in the jail sometime in March,” Mathes said. “We haven’t set a date yet.”

Mathes said his officers are continuing to work on the final details to get the jail ready for the opening. That includes figuring out where a bundle of unconnected wires should be connected.

There are dozens of other minor mistakes that need to be corrected, including locks in some medical holding rooms that allow the prisoner to open the door from the inside or lock everyone else out. Obviously, those locks need to be reversed.

Many of the other mistakes in design or construction have already been corrected, such as the glass in the visitors’ reception room which did not have an opening for communicating or passing documents.

Mathes said the new facility is much cleaner now than when the construction company left, thanks to jail work details that have thoroughly cleaned the facility. He said he plans to keep it as clean as it is now.

“You have seen the floors in the old jail. You can eat off them. I want the same over here,” Mathes said.

There have also been sweeps of the jail to gather any material left behind by construction workers, such as screws, nails, razor blades and other items that could be used as a weapon if a prisoner found them.

One of the biggest problems was the large number of divots in the finished floor created by the final stages of construction. Some of the floors are still marked, but Mathes said the settlement the county is working to complete with the construction company could be used to purchase a tile covering for the worst parts.

Mathes said some of the best news is the quality of the applicants to fill the new guard positions.

“We have interviewed over 100 people and we have narrowed it down to 44,” Mathes said. With background checks, he expects to end up with 30 to 32 personnel to fill the new slots.

“I was pleasantly surprised with the quality,” Mathes said. “That had been one of my biggest concerns.”

He said most of the finalists are from Carter County. There are some from the rest of the Tri-Cities area and a few from out of the area. He said about 20 have college degrees.

Because there will be such a large number of new correctional officers, Mathes said the Tennessee Corrections Institute has agreed to conduct training at the jail for the new officers rather than have them sent across the state for training. That will allow them to train with their own equipment and save the county the travel and housing costs normally associated with the training.

Mathes said there has been a lot of controversy surrounding the jail that goes back a long time before his administration. He said he would like to thank the County Commission for making the decisions it did on the size of the new jail. He said the new jails in Washington County and Sullivan County have already had to expand because they were already full the day the doors opened.

Mathes said the jail has room to grow, including a part of the existing building that is a shell that can be finished at a later time and will add at least another 150 beds.

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