January 15, 2020
By: Dwayne Page
The Deputy Director of the Tennessee Corrections Institute Monday night met for the first time with an ad hoc jail committee of the county commission to start the process of making recommendations for addressing deficiencies at the DeKalb County Jail and Annex.
Bob Bass will work with the committee to establish a vision and plan of action regarding short and long term solutions to recommend to the full county commission.
Members of the jail committee, appointed last month by County Mayor Tim Stribling, are county commissioners Scott Little, Beth Pafford, Bobby Johnson, Sabrina Farler, Anita Puckett, and Matt Adcock. Criminal Court Judge Gary McKenzie, Assistant District Attorney General Greg Strong, Sheriff Patrick Ray and Chief Deputy Robert Patrick also serve on the committee and were at the meeting Monday night.
Several findings were identified during a state inspection of the jail on August 22 and while a follow-up inspection on October 4 revealed some of the issues had been addressed, others remain which will require a longer term fix. Although many of these same deficiencies have existed for years, both the jail and annex have consistently passed annual state inspections until this year.
While the jail and annex (certified for 102 beds) are not currently overcrowded at 83 inmates a major concern is that the facilities do not meet the state square footage per inmate space requirements. Another problem is the age of the buildings. The original jail was built in 1959 and lacks many state required essentials such as natural lighting and a sprinkler system among others. The annex was added in 2001 and has issues of its own.
The jail and annex have been re-certified by the state for another year but to qualify the county had to request a partnership with TCI and the County Technical Advisory Service (CTAS) to show that it plans to make “measurable” progress over a period of time in upgrading the facilities in order to maintain jail certification going forward.
“You (county) are inspected once a year. You don’t know we (TCI) are coming. That’s the law. It can’t be announced and we check over 430 standards to see if you are in compliance. Those components exist from inmate housing, medical, to disciplinary among others. If you are overcrowded or cannot meet the standards we can come back in 60 days to see if you can fix those things. If you can’t you can file a plan of action and that is where you are at right now,” said Bass.
Maintaining jail certification is important, according to Bass, especially in the event of a federal lawsuit.
“If you (county) are sued and get certified we (TCI) go into court with you and tell the federal judge why you are meeting the standards for certification. But if you are not meeting the standards, we are probably going to be on the plaintiff’s side,” Bass told the committee.
Bass said while the problems at the jail and annex cannot be fixed overnight the county is on the right track in showing the state a good faith effort in trying to address them.
“Your job as a steering or ad hoc committee is to let the jail experts come in and tell you what is wrong with the jail and make suggestions to upgrade and fix them and let you go in front of the full county commission and make recommendations. You have some real serious physical plant problems at the jail which may require you to have to throw a little money at but let’s see what we can do. What I try to do is look at things we can fix without spending a lot of taxpayer dollars,” he said.