Attorney says Washington County jail resolves overcrowding issue

Becky Campbell • Sep 12, 2012 at 9:23 AM

Washington County Attorney John Rambo said he fully expects a state board to recertify the Washington County Detention Center, despite weeks of uncertainty due to overcrowding.

The sheriff’s office got past the overcrowding hurdle and the threat of losing certification of the jail by the Tennessee Corrections Institute by convincing the state to take its own inmates.

“Since Friday they have taken 40, which is twice as many as they have taken all year,” Rambo said about the Department of Correction.

The TCI’s board of control meets at 10 a.m. CST today in Nashville to consider certification of the detention center.

The overcrowding issue started after a July 17 inspection of the center — an annual occurrence — when the inspector determined there were too many inmates housed in the 558-bed facility.

According to the sheriff’s office, there were 662 inmates in the jail on July 17. Of those, 154 were post-conviction state inmates.

At the Sept. 6 re-inspection, the jail housed 667 inmates, with 147 of those being state inmates. On Tuesday, the total jail population was 603. Of those, 136 were state inmates.

“The inspector identified overcrowding as an issue of concern and he scheduled a subsequent inspection in September to either see if the county had rectified the overcrowding or would enter into an agreement, binding, with the state of Tennessee to implement measures to reduce the overcrowding,” Rambo said. He noted the overcrowding was the only issue the inspector had with the facility, but it carried big consequences.

“The implication was that certification would be withheld because of overcrowding,” Rambo said.

In the time between the inspector’s visits, Rambo said the county asked the Department of Correction to take 86 state inmates and let the local judges know what was going on as well.

At the time there were 240 pretrial felony inmates and with backlogged court dockets, the jail population grows.

“It’s important for pretrial felony cases to be processed as expeditiously as possible,” Rambo said. “We can only transfer inmates that are sentenced.”

One of the consequences of the jail being decertified, Rambo said, is the county being forced to set aside that money for capital improvements.

“The state could require the county to set aside all or a portion of the state funding for its jail for capital improvements. At one point that was $1.9 million a year,” Rambo said.

The county is paid $37 per day for each state inmate housed there.

“Second, if you lose certification, you run the risk of litigation claiming we are not treating our inmates in a proper environment, requesting a judge to order either the release the inmates or to expand the jail.

“If you lack certification, you are automatically scrutinized as to why don’t you have certification,” he said.

During this recertification process, Rambo wrote letters to the TCI and DOC explaining the county’s position.

“Basically our position was you can’t decertify us if our department is full of state inmates. The TCI has acknowledged we have one of the best run facilities in the state of Tennessee. That came from conversations with TCI and the DOC,” Rambo said.

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