Only On 3: Is it time for a new jail in Hamilton County? - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Only On 3: Is it time for a new jail in Hamilton County?

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HAMILTON COUNTY, TN (WRCB) -

Inmates and officers are usually the only ones to pass through the guard doors at the Hamilton County Jail, but not Thursday.

Sheriff Jim Hammond and a group of officers escort Channel 3 through the halls of the aging Hamilton County Jail.

"It's just the slow deterioration for a building this age," explains Sheriff Jim Hammond. "Are we in imminent failure of the building, no, but I think we've probably reached the point where we're going to have to start talking about where do we go from here."

A jail this size, according to officers, ages three and a half years for every year that passes.

"Because we're a 24-hour operation plus the clientele we have don't exactly take care of the facility," Lt. G Coppinger says.

The inmates have found ways to use anything available to them as weapons or as a way to bring in contraband.

Steel sheets now cover the walls of one cell, after inmates drilled a hole to literally fish for items from the street six stories below.

"They were trying to bring stuff in. They were trying to bring in drugs mostly and cigarettes," Hammond explains.

They used a stripped black garbage bag as string.

"About 150 feet long," says Coppinger.  

Deep beneath the cells a tunnel under Walnut Street leads inmates from the jail to the Courts Building.

However, for arraignments, inmates sit in a closed room with a monitor and video chat with a judge. It helped save the county money, so much the sheriff says the jail will soon move towards video visitation with inmates.

"It's a hard thing to get people down here for parking," says Hammond.

While a new facility may be in the distant future, officers say it will save the county money in the long run and enhance officer and inmate safety alike.

Construction on the current building started in 1973 for a cost of about $25 million.

It was completed in 1976, and housed the jail and courthouse.

Most of the court operations relocated in 1992. The jail was then updated in 1995.

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