State calls out Bradley County Jail crowding

Staff Photo / The Bradley County Jail, on Blythe Avenue in Cleveland, Tenn., is shown here in June 2018.

By next month, the Bradley County Sheriff's Office must respond to a state report that identified 13 operational deficiencies at its jail, including a primary finding that the 2004-era county lockup is overcrowded.

The Tennessee Corrections Institute's inspection on Aug. 22 noted overcrowded conditions in four pods of the men's portion of the jail and two pods of the women's portion, causing the jail to be out of compliance with space requirements.

Sheriff Steve Lawson and his staff are working with the Tennessee Department of Correction and the local and state courts to find ways to reduce the population in the county's jail and are addressing other findings, Sheriff's Office spokesman Paul Allen said in an email.

The other findings were noted in security, the kitchen, laundry and in medical services record-keeping, according to the institute. The institute is required by state law to establish minimum standards for adult local jails, and the agency's Board of Control sets standards to inspect and certify local correctional facilities.

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The 510-bed jail is certified to hold 402 men and 108 women, but it was overcrowded Tuesday, Allen said. The headcount tallied 395 men and 126 women being held at the jail. That count allowed enough beds for the men, but beds for female inmates fell 18 short.

"It is important to note 72 of our current inmates are awaiting transfer to a state prison," Allen said. "If the state of Tennessee would transfer some of the sentenced inmates, the Bradley County Jail would not be overpopulated. Our agency sends a weekly email to the Tennessee Department of Correction requesting some state inmates to be picked up. Today, Sheriff Lawson has contacted the Tennessee Department of Correction to request at least 20 state inmates to be picked up from our facility."

  photo  Staff Photo / The Bradley County Jail, on Blythe Avenue in Cleveland, Tenn., is shown here in June 2018.

In the other findings, security checks and logs on special observation of inmates did not meet standards. State inspectors also noted findings in administration and management regarding policy and procedure, as wella as substandard fire drills and restraint chair logs. Issue were also found in inventory keeping of jail keys, a lack of culinary equipment security and weekly security walk-throughs.

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Those issues identified by state inspectors are being remedied, Allen said.

"Rest assured, the Bradley County Sheriff's Office prides itself on high standards," Allen said. "All the items on the list will be fully addressed, and some have already been corrected."

The overcrowding issue isn't as easily solved.

"Our goal to be fully staffed will certainly aid in ensuring a secure facility; however, an overpopulated jail is an issue we will continue to face," Allen said, noting some shortcomings involving staff have been addressed. "Since the new pay plan passed in July of this year, the Bradley County Jail has employed many new correctional officers who will soon be fully trained resulting in adequate staffing."

Allen said the jail isn't about to lose its hard-won state certification. Most of Tennessee's jail facilities go through a correction stage after an inspection results in deficiencies, he said. That is the same step Bradley is taking now.

"In the last three years, we did not require a reinspection because we passed on the first attempt," he said.

Meanwhile, the jail's daily population waxes and wanes as space remains tight. Allen said neighboring jails help out when they can, but overcrowding continues.

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"Overcrowding has long been an issue," Allen said. "In 2018, the night Sheriff Lawson took office, the jail population was 583. Within a few days, it rose to 604. Sheriff Lawson communicated with the judges and District Attorney's Office concerning the issue. Since then, we send our daily population numbers to the judges, District Attorney's Office and the Bradley County Commission to keep them abreast of the situation."

Despite the jail's last expansion that added 100 beds after a workhouse was completed in 2017, it is still overcrowded much of the time, he said. There are no current plans for expansion.

The state's follow-up inspection is set for Oct. 20.

Contact Ben Benton at [email protected] or 423-757-6569.

  photo  Staff Photo / The Bradley County Jail, on Blythe Avenue in Cleveland, Tenn., is shown here in June 2018.