Bradley County Sheriff says the state is partially to blame for overcrowding at the jail
Overcrowded and understaffed: that's how a state inspector described the Bradley County jail in an inspection report last week before noting at least 26 other problems.
Sheriff Steve Lawson says he is already in the process of fixing the problems inside the jail, but he needs help with overcrowding.
He says when he first took office last year, there were 581 inmates housed in the Bradley County jail; 139 of the inmates are classified as state inmates.
On Thursday, Sheriff Lawson counted 524 inmates. The jail is a 510-bed facility, which means it is over capacity. Lawson says it's an issue he has been trying to fix since he took office, but his requests for help have been ignored.
“If they would take half, I'd be great. But nobody seems to want to take them,” Sheriff Lawson said.
As of Thursday, he says the state has not helped. Now, Sheriff Lawson has assigned an officer to email the state every Monday until they step in.
“How do you not take ownership yourself when you're the state of Tennessee and you're putting it back on the counties to get wrote up for overcrowding? Someone has to question them,” Lawson said.
With overcrowding comes staffing issues. Lawson says he does not have enough corrections officers to accompany the number of inmates in the jail.
There are currently 65 officers on staff. Sheriff Lawson says he wants at least 90 by the end of his term.
“If I assign you to three pods when you should only be working one pod, can I really expect you to keep up and do all of the documentation you need to do? That kind of falls back on me so some of that I have to take the brunt for and I will take the brunt, but not all of it,” said Sheriff Lawson.
Channel 3 reached out to the Department of Correction for comment. A spokesperson sent the following statement:
"Across the state, the Department of Correction continues to work with all county partners to the best of our ability in an effort to help alleviate the incarceration challenges that many of our county partners are experiencing. However, there is no silver bullet to the issue. Roughly half of all county jail beds are currently occupied by pre-trial detainees or those not convicted of a crime. This year alone, TDOC has taken in more than 44 inmates from Bradley County.
As a public safety community, we must ensure our incarceration resources are smartly used on those who pose a real threat to our communities."
With a four-year plan still in place and a budget awaiting approval by the county commission, Sheriff Lawson has hope things will improve soon.
“It's tough to run this jail. It's tough when it’s overcrowded. It's tough when you're understaffed,” he said. “I can sit back and worry myself to death about it or I can say I can take this and we can get better and that's what I plan to do.”