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Inspector advises sheriff of need for new jail

A recent jail inspection has revealed the need for public officials to consider building a new jail to house county inmates.
The Unicoi County Jail, which was built in the mid-70s, was certified to continue operation for the next year after a follow-up jail inspection was completed last week.
“[The inspector] came down to look at everything, both facilities,” Hensley said. “We’re in good shape. We passed. He was pleased with everything we’ve done.”
However, Unicoi County Sheriff Mike Hensley said the inspection also revealed a completely new jail will need to be considered in the future.
“[The inspector] is saying that this jail has outlived its expectancy,” Hensley said. “He said their team will come to address the County Commission probably next year.”
The average life expectancy of a county jail is around 20 years, Hensley said.
Hensley also said the inspector urged him to put together a committee before next year’s inspection in order to anticipate the building of a new jail.
The committee, Hensley said, is to include members of the Tennessee Correctional Institute (TCI), County Technical Assistance Service (CTAS) and selected county commissioners.
“They have to start throwing out ideas for the upcoming year,” Hensley said. “Eventually, we will have to build a new jail. It’s not immediate. It’s going to be down the road, but we absolutely have to form this committee.”
Hensley said he is unsure exactly when a new jail would need to be built. “This doesn’t mean we will have to build a jail next year or even in the next two years,” Hensley said. “We just absolutely have to have this committee in place because our current facility has outlived its expectancy. We have to go by what they tell us to do.”
Hensley said Unicoi County has a difficult time staying current with state mandates since nearly half of the county is federally owned.
Hensley said he has plans to try to ease the burden of the cost of a new jail through his membership with the Tennessee Sheriff’s Association.
“I don’t know how far I can get with this,” Hensley said. “But, I feel it is my duty as sheriff to try to do something. I’m going to try to talk to the Tennessee Sheriff’s Association and see if there is any way they can come in and help us a little with this cost. They may not be able to do anything but at least I can say I tried.”
Also about two months ago, Hensley said, an inspector came to address a female inmate overcrowding issue, which has since been addressed.
“It seems like now that we’re getting more female inmates than before,” Hensley said. “(The inspector) recommended that we look at some options.”
The female inmates were moved to the Unicoi County Jail Annex, Hensley said. He also said additional staffing was implemented after the Unicoi County Commission approved his request. “They granted me permission to hire additional female jailers to staff out there,” Hensley said. “We have done that and we will be continuing to hire female jailers as revenue comes in from the state inmates that I’ve placed out there.”

By Kayla Carter
Staff Writer
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