Johnson County sheriff to address jail overcrowding with 'plan of action' next year

Becky Campbell • Dec 8, 2016 at 11:19 PM

Johnson County Sheriff Mike Reece was between a rock and a hard place last year.

The agency that inspects correction facilities was on the verge of decertifying the Johnson County Jail, and decertification would mean the jail would have to close.

To alleviate the lockup’s overcrowding problem, Reece shipped 14 state inmates to other facilities. Those inmates represented $518 per day — $37 per inmate — from the state, which contracts with county jails to house state inmates to reduce the state prison population.

Because of Reece’s move, the situation didn’t go as far as decertification. But while the jail population is OK right now, Reece said he’s under a directive from the Tennessee Corrections Institute — the certifying agency — to create a plan of action to address the issue for the future.

“We have to have a plan of action on the table when they come back next year,” Reece said. “I’ve explained to the County Commission we have to have a plan of action to fix this.”

Reece said the county’s law enforcement committee will meet after the holidays to discuss what steps to take, whether it be to discontinue the contract to house state inmates or add on to the current jail.

“In April 2015, TCI came in and inspected us and told me then we were overcrowded and we had to do something to relieve it,” Reece said. “They gave us a certain length of time. … I went to the county mayor and told him what I needed to do.”

Reece said he reduced the number of state inmates, which reduced the overall population so when Tennessee Corrections Institute representatives returned in May, Johnson County received its recertification.

“They said my numbers were fine (and) we’ve not got any more state inmates back,” Reece said.

But the money that went along with those state inmates added up quickly: the jail lost around $189,000 a year in revenue from the state.

As of Thursday, Johnson County had 53 state inmates incarcerated, with the rest of the 114-bed facility filled with county inmates. Those state inmates pull in around $715,000 for the county’s general fund.

“We’re contracted for 72 state inmates, but we just can’t house them,” Reece said this week. “Our county inmate population has went up. When I took over in ’06 it was just the opposite.”

At that time, with only 63 county inmates incarcerated at the jail, there was plenty of room at the 114-bed facility. Reece sought a state contract to house state inmates and bring in some revenue for the county.

It worked.

“At one point, I was bringing in $1.1 million,” Reece said. But when the county inmate population began to rise, things got tight inside the jail, which led the Tennessee Corrections Institute to lean toward decertifying the jail.

Reece said pre-trial detainees are what increased the jail population.

“The county inmates are backing us up,” he said. “In October we had 35 detainees waiting to go to court on violation of probation. They get out on probation and they’re just reoffending. (Probation officers) violate them and put them back in jail. As far as the dockets, Judge (Stacy) Street and Judge (Lisa) Rice are moving the dockets …  it’s just a revolving door.”

When county inmates squeezed out state prisoners, for which the county was reimbursed, the county’s budget took a hit.

“That helps set our budget. … I don’t get any of that money,” at the sheriff’s office, he said. The loss of the money from the 14 inmates Reece had to relinquish filtered down in to departmental budgets being slashed, Reece’s maintenance budget reduced, no county employee raises and a four-cent property tax increase.

“I got the finger pointed at me, but it wasn’t my fault,” Reece said. “Unfortunately, some of our County Commission doesn’t understand how this works. If I lose certification, we’re in serious trouble.”

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