UPDATE: Rhea County Sheriff's Office has 60 days to cut overcrowding or get cited
Newly released documents shows the Rhea County Sheriff must submit a plan to make jail improvements before the end of the month.
UPDATE: One million dollars, that's how much it will cost Rhea County taxpayers if the sheriff's department doesn't fix an overcrowding problem at the jail. State officials sent a letter to the Rhea County Sheriff, stating he must fix the issue within 60 days or be taken to court.
The sheriff said overcrowding has been a problem since he took office in 2002 but blames county commissioners for not doing their job.
Inside the Rhea County Jail there are 217 inmates but only 87 beds, forcing 130 to sleep on the floor.
Past these prison doors inmates are, “packed in here like sardines,” said Justin Houston, an inmate at the Rhea County Jail.
The jail is facing a serious overcrowding issue. Inmates are forced to sleep wherever they can find room. “At one time we had 25 people in there and it is made for 8 people,” said inmate Tabbitha Jordan.
Sheriff Mike Neal has 30 days to cut the population in half and then 30 more days to ensure the jail built for 87 inmates, is only housing 87 inmates. “To get the numbers that low, it is probably not possible. To get the numbers down to 120-130, to a reasonable number, that is possible,” said Sheriff Neal.
That requires moving inmates to county jails across Tennessee, and paying those counties to house the inmates. Rhea County taxpayers will foot the bill. “Just housing those inmates will be a million dollars a year. Not including moving the inmate from one facility to the other, bringing them back to Dayton for court. And transportation will be tremendous also.”
Sheriff Neal said the county is in desperate need of a new justice center. But county commissioners have not funded a new jail. “Everything is not working together, and they have been told for years now, that this day is coming that they are going to have to move these inmates to another facility. The state of TN has been telling them, the fire marshal has been telling them, and the day has came and they didn't get the facility built.”
County commissioners tell Channel 3 they are looking at a few different locations to build the new jail, that they do not yet have the money for.
Until that happens, inmates are 10 to a cell. “I know I deserve to be here, I'm not saying I don't deserve to be here. But at least put us somewhere where we are not walked on,” said Jordan.
The sheriff is working with the District Attorney to release the nonviolent offenders or to reduce their sentencing.
Since 2011 Sheriff Neal has been setting money aside to prevent taxpayers from paying for the jail.
He has saved over 600-thousand dollars for the new justice center. He, along with the state comptroller's office, have discussed housing 75 state inmates at the new jail to collect money for operating cost. The state would pay the county 40-dollars per inmate, each day, to house the inmates at Rhea County Jail.
Count on us to keep you updated throughout the process.
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There were a total of six issues found during an inspection by the state's fire marshal.
According to a report the rhea county jail is overcrowded and in such a bad condition that it is "especially prone" to fire and is in "dangerous condition".