Overcrowded Rhea County Jail heats up - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Overcrowded Rhea County Jail heats up

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RHEA COUNTY, TN. (WRCB)  --  Rhea County's current jail was built in 1962 and was made to house 87 inmates.

"Right now at this moment I think we're at 140," says Chief Deputy John Argo. 

This past weekend when the heat hit 107 degrees, the 167 inmates inside at the time were literally baking.

"It was pretty bad. I mean, but it's jail. You're not here to be comfortable," says one inmate.  

"The temperatures just rolled up and some parts of the jail it was up in the upper 90s," Argo says. "We had to turn away all of our weekend DUI offenders and all that, because we didn't have beds or room for them."

Box fans and water helped keep inmates cool and the county approved a new air conditioning unit to be installed. However, sheriff's deputies say it's only a temporary solution to a problem that gets worse every year.

"In order to adequately take care of the inmates and supply them with what we're required to supply them by the state, we do need a new facility," says Argo.

The sheriff's office has campaigned for a new jail for years.

"We know this thing is overcrowded and we're working on a solution everyday. We're trying to figure it out," says County Executive George Thacker.  

Thacker says he called a special meeting to discuss the issue.

"Some of them said, 'why don't we just go ahead', but it would be two years before it was built," Thacker says.  

The sheriff's office has looked at new property and plans, but the finances aren't in place.

"I think this will be the first thing we get a hold of in the next part of this budget, is talking about the jail," says Thacker.

"It's very dangerous. On a scale of one to 10, we need to move forward very fast," Argo says.  

When the inmate population reaches 170, the sheriff's office will begin to place inmates in other facilities.

The new air conditioning unit is being installed now, but officers say it'll only help a little.

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