ELIZABETHTON — The Law Enforcement Committee of the Carter County Commission expressed dissatisfaction with the contract to house state prisoners in the new Carter County Jail.
Several committee members are unhappy with the per diem rate the state is willing to pay for housing prisoners who are being kept in the county jail until a space is available in the state prison system. There is also displeasure in the proposed 5-year term of the contract.
To express the committee’s frustration, a conference call was held Monday evening with Bob McKee, director of the Jail Resource Office, for the Tennessee Department of Corrections.
Committee member John Lewis asked if there could be negotiations about the $37 per day per prisoner the state is proposing to pay under the contract.
McKee said that amount was set by the General Assembly and had been raised during the last session from $35 per day. McKee said he would not argue that $37 might not cover all the costs of housing a prisoner, especially not when the debt service is figured on the $26 million new jail.
McKee said the only local jails that are paid more are the major jails of Davidson and Shelby counties. He said the Johnson City Jail, which houses women state prisoners, is also an exception. The state pays Johnson City $38.75 per prisoner per day.
Sheriff Chris Mathes said the state is not placing prisoners in the new jail. The state prisoners that are in the jail are from Carter County and have been convicted of a felony. They remain in the jail until a prison bed space is available.
McKee said the state is under a federal court order against overcrowding, so convicted state prisoners back up in the county jails.
The county does have some incentives in signing the contract. The biggest is medical expenses. Under the contract, the county is only liable for the first $1,000 of medical costs for a state prisoner. Everything over that is paid by the state. There is also the chance that if the state experiences another economic downturn, the per diem rate paid to noncontracted counties could be decreased.
After the discussion, the committee voted unanimously to recommend to the County Commission that the contract be limited to one year, which could be approved for one-year intervals over the next five years.
In other matters, Mathes said the old jail pods, which provided temporary housing to 96 prisoners before the new jail was completed, have been sold for $5,750. The pods must be removed to bring the county into compliance with an agreement with the Elizabethton Planning Commission.
The committee also agreed to recommend that a new roof be put on the Carter County Justice Center now that the jail has been vacated. Chief Deputy Ron Street said there are serious leaks and one has been leaking so long that stalactites have grown from the ceiling underneath. He said the leaks are damaging the building.