Jail Crowding: Fix or Face Shutdown - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Jail Crowding: Fix or Face Shutdown

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Story by Gordon Boyd
Eyewitness News Reporter

RHEA COUNTY, TN. (WRCB)-- Rhea County leaders say Tennessee's Corrections Institute has given them until December 2nd to devise a concrete plan for easing crowding, or their jail will shut down.

"That old jail's been there long enough," resident Wayne Webb says. "Do I think we need a bigger one? Yes!"

Monday morning, the jail held 111 inmates. It's state certified for only 87.

"We added to the jail about 8 or 9 years ago," says County Commission Chairman Ronnie Raper.  "We thought it would last about 10 or 15 years"

Raper also chairs Rhea County's jail committee, but he wasn't invited to Monday's meeting with Sheriff Mike Neal, County Executive George Thacker, and an inspector with the Tennessee Corrections Institute.

The jail committee's 'Plan of Action' proposes several possibilities for remedy, but it offers no recommendations.

Thacker guesstimates that a new 200-bed Jail & Justice Center could cost $20 million

"There's a possibility that we could get some state money, but I do not know at this time," Raper says.

But the jail is not the only institution facing growing pains.

"We got a lot more kids these days too," Webb says. "Gonna need a new high school."

 Thacker figures a new high school could cost $30 million.

 "With jobs and the economy, it's hard to raise taxes right now," Thacker says. "I'm reluctant to ask for one (jail or school), let alone both. I don't know what the answer is."

Resident Darrell Harrall wonders whether everybody in jail, needs to be

"Little offenders, give 'em house arrest," he says. 'But I don't see that people on drugs--they should, just give em rehabilitation. Something like that."

Thacker says judges have exhausted all the sentencing alternatives.  He's hopeful that the Corrections Department will give Rhea County wiggle room.@

"Maybe by buying property or showing them goodwill, they'll let us stay open," he says.

County commissioners will discuss options for dealing with the jail crisis at their regular work session November 9th.


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