Future of Hamilton County jail up for review - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

UPDATE: Future of Hamilton County jail up for review

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HAMILTON COUNTY, TN (WRCB) -

UPDATE: Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger is exploring the option of privatizing the county jails.

The discussions come as the current jail downtown is old and in bad need of repairs, according to the sheriff.

Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond spoke about the condition of the county's jail following reports by the Hamilton County Grand Jury.  

The Grand Jury reports to the judges, mayor and county commission after reviewing the facility and have stressed the need for another jail.

READ MORE | Hamilton County's 2016 Budget

Hammond says it is "simply costing us and our citizens too much to operate." 

County Mayor Jim Coppinger said there's an extra $1 million being allotted to Corrections Corporation of America in the 2016 budget because of a 7.1 percent increase in inmates. That has him looking for cheaper options.

"During the conversations, we discovered that CCA is actually interested in buying our facility, building a facility at that site and holding the costs down," Coppinger said. "What we pay CCA to operate the Silverdale facility, we couldn't come to close to doing. We actually save millions of dollars by contracting with CCA."

That does not mean, however, that the sale of the workhouse to CCA and the closing of the current jail is a planned event at this time said Sheriff Hammond.

“What is does mean is that we need a professional study group to determine what alternatives and options are available and cost effective for the jail,” Hammond said.

That study would determine the current and future needs for space and the cost of building a new jail. Hammond said the study could take a year and  building a new jail would take at least another 12-18 months.

Coppinger did not give a timeline Wednesday, saying it was premature. His hope it to file a resolution this month, asking the commission for authorization to hire a consultant.

Tennessee sheriffs are constitutional officers and are mandated by state law to operate a jail in their counties. 

Sheriff Hammond was quite clear in stressing that “whatever negotiations take place, the future careers of his staff in the Jail is a non-negotiable.”

Coppinger said CCA would not be obligated in retaining county-employed corrections officers but said he's hopeful something could be worked out.

The commission will vote on the budget June 17.

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