Work ongoing to shrink inmate count at center

Becky Campbell • Sep 19, 2012 at 9:34 PM

It takes a lot of paperwork to move inmates from the local jail to a state facility, but Washington County Sheriff’s Office officials and the Circuit Court clerk’s office are hard at work to get the job done.

It’s a continued effort to reduce the population at the Detention Center, which nearly lost it’s certification through the Tennessee Corrections Institute earlier this month for being overcrowded.

Sessions and Criminal Court judges have helped in the process by either releasing inmates on house arrest if they qualify or by loading up their dockets with cases involving violations of probation.

The state refers to those inmates as pre-trial inmates, but they actually already have a sentence. If a judge determines it’s appropriate, the inmate will be ordered to serve their sentence and can be transferred to a state facility.

That’s where the clerk’s office starts with preparing “pen papers.” Those are a compilation of documents related to the inmates’ charges, conviction and sentence that must accompany him or her to the next facility.

Detention Center Maj. Brenda Downes delivered requests to the clerk’s office Wednesday to start the process to send 88 inmates to a state facility. Clerk Karen Guinn and her staff checked and found those inmates already have upcoming court dates and there is no sooner time available for a judge to hear the case.

Still, Downes said the clerk’s office has already helped the situation with a push in recent weeks to get more inmates moved out of Washington County.

“Without their hard work, it wouldn’t be possible,” to get the inmates ready for transfer, Downes said.

On Wednesday, the jail housed a total of 537 inmates. Of those, 139 are state inmates and many are eligible to be transferred once the paperwork is complete — and if beds become available at another facility.

Since the mid-summer threat of decertification, the jail has been able to get 50 beds approved at other facilities. Each bed elsewhere decreases the overcrowded situation in Jonesborough, Downes said.

When the mid-summer jail inspection occurred, there were 662 inmates at the detention center. A follow-up inspection on Sept. 4 showed 667 inmates. Even though there were more total inmates at the second inspection, there were fewer state inmates at that time. In July there were 154 state inmates and in September that number was down to 147.

Downes and Chief Operating Officer Leighta Laitinen said the jail head count is always changing because of new arrests and the breakdown of county and state inmates changes when inmates attend court and are sentenced.

Downes and Laitinen said the county is committed to continuing to work toward a lower head count in the jail.

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