Jail overcrowding leads to state prisoner move
HUNTSVILLE — All state prisoners at the Scott County Jail have been transferred to other counties due to overcrowded conditions.
That’s what Sheriff Anthony Lay told members of County Commission’s Intergovernmental Committee during Monday night’s regular monthly work session.
Sheriff Lay explained that there were actually two reasons for transferring the state inmates: 1) “some people say we can’t make money on housing state prisoners”; and, 2) “we’re extremely overcrowded with local prisoners” due to recent convictions in local courts.
The sheriff went on to say that he has to keep the inmate population down in order to keep the jail open, and “these are the people I had to move first.”
Insisting that it was a have-to situation, Sheriff Lay said “the state won’t be sending in any reimbursements,” referring to the $35 per day reimbursement for each state prisoner kept in the local jail.
The announcement about the transfer of state prisoners came during a 50-minute appearance before the Intergovernmental Committee, which also included the sheriff asking for:
• Advertising for bids on inmate uniforms, sheets, pillow cases and mattresses for the new jail;
• Relocating jail inmate monitoring equipment from the Sheriff’s Office to the Jail Administrator’s Office, and moving video visitation monitoring equipment from the dispatch room to the control tower in the jail; and,
• Adding a surveillance camera to the evidence room to protect Sheriff’s Department personnel from accusations of tampering with evidence.
Sheriff Lay also clarified an earlier statement about state prisoners making money, by saying: “What I’m trying to tell you is . . . we’ll have revenue to offset the cost of operating a jail. It’s not my goal to raise anybody’s taxes,” he said, but rather to do his job in accordance with established laws and safety standard for housing inmates.
Committee Chairman and First District Commissioner Jeff Watson asked Sheriff Lay if he still guaranteed that he would have 50 state prisoners in the new facility when it opens.
Lay stated: “I will hold a minimum of 50 state prisoners.”
Watson: “We can try to build a budget around that figure.”
Later, Third District Commissioner Alan Reed got Sheriff Lay to agree to provide the committee with a list of the sheriffs he’d talked to who said they were making money housing state prisoners.
Earlier, in response to a question by Fifth District Commissioner Paul Strunk, Sheriff Lay admitted that he had demoted his jail administrator and told why.
“He was not able to complete the police academy,” the sheriff said, pointing out it was because he was unable to meet one of the physical requirements of the course.
The individual, which went unnamed, has been kept on staff and was to have assumed a position as a courthouse security guard on Tuesday, Sheriff Lay said.
The Intergovernmental Committee also approved and sent on to the full commission two contracts related to the award of a $207,727 H.O.M.E. grant for new and/or rehabilitated homes for needy county residents.
One is a contract with the State of Tennessee to accept the grant funds, and the other is with the Knoxville-based consulting engineering firm of Barge, Wagoner, Sumner and Cannon (BWS&C), which will administer the grant funds.
Gwen Brown, a representative of the engineering firm, appeared before the committee to explain the details of the two contracts and the project itself.
She said that it is anticipated hat the grant funds would pay for two new constructions and at least three home rehabilitation projects.
At the request of Seventh District Commissioner Mike Slaven, the committee voted to go on record in opposition to the National Park Service’s plan to close the J.C. Terry Cemetery Road from the Scott County Airport area to O&W Road.
Fellow Seventh District Commissioner Willie Boyatt made the motion in opposition to that road closing—or any other road closing where vehicular traffic is currently allowed.
Slaven also asked that copies of the resolution in opposition to the road closing be forwarded to U.S. Senators Alexander and Coker, and Representative Davis.
County Attorney John Beaty reported to the committee on a lawsuit filed recently against Scott County by Oneida Farms Development, Inc. (Ernest Billingsley), concerning an alleged breach of a lease agreement executed in 1989 with regard to the old county landfill, and an alleged breach of an oral agreement of payment of $1,000 a year for use of an adjoining piece of property to be used in the post-closure process of the landfill.
Beaty also informed the committee that he was planning to file a motion in Chancery Court concerning a 1991 lawsuit filed by Roberta Sanitary Landfill (Johnny King). Beaty said that a year ago he (Beaty) had filed a motion for discovery to which there has been no response.
He said he would be asking the court for an order to compel that his motion for discovery be complied with.
Beaty further stated that King had actually filed two separate lawsuits against the county (17 years earlier) in his effort to establish a privately-owned landfill and another for reverse condemnation of property. He added that the Town of Winfield was also named in one of the lawsuits.
COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT COMMITTEE
The committee held a brief discussion with Huntsville attorneys Don C. Stansberry Jr., and his son, Don C. Stansberry III concerning plans being formulated for restoring and utilizing the Scott County Jail and Courthouse once they are no longer being used by the county.
Stansberry III explained that several local “stakeholders” have been discussing “what could and should be done” with the old structures, and had come before the committee to insure “what we’re doing is in keeping with your plans.”
He proposed a three-pronged approach: 1) Seek ideas on what the buildings should become; 2) determine available resources (financial, architectural, organization, planning resources, etc.); and, 3) determine what form of rehabilitation should take place, irregardless of whether it remains government owned, or is passed on to a not-for-profit organization to manage.
Stansberry Jr., speaking in his role as a member of the Board of Trustees of the University of Tennessee, suggested that the county consider seeking the expertise and resources available through UT’s Institute for Public Service.
He said the institute has experts on where to find money, architectural services and a wide range of uses. “I have asked them if they would consider this project,” he stated, adding that he sees it as “an appropriate vehicle” to take over a restoration project such as this.
“My advice is to bring people in to help us with this plan,” and recommended “a professional approach” by talking to people who know how to get things done.
Mayor Rick Keeton said he has heard from several local individuals about possible future use of the buildings, including some who would like to see the jail converted to a bed and breakfast establishment.
Commissioner Slaven told the Stansberrys that he welcomed “someone coming in to do the thinking for us.”
In the only other business of note during Monday night’s committee work sessions, the Emergency Services Committee heard a report from Ambulance Service Director Jim Reed concerning TennCare reimbursements coming under new, private firm management, and the Building and Grounds Committee hearing a report from Mayor Keeton concerning some of the final work being done to complete the Scott County Justice Center project.