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Facility certification topic of upcoming meeting with state board

The challenges facing the Unicoi County jail were outlined in a letter addressed to Mayor Greg Lynch by a Tennessee detention facilities specialist last week.
“There have been several calls to me concerning your jail situation from several of the county officials,” Detention Facilities Specialist Bob Bass wrote in the Nov. 14 letter. “Although your situation is not unique it does pose some unique challenges due to timelines.”
Bass met with the Unicoi County Jail Committee on Oct. 22 and advised the panel the men’s jail, which is located adjacent to the courthouse, was subject to decertification due to deficiencies found at the jail during an inspection earlier that month. He also told the panel that the jail annex located on Jackson-Love Highway, which houses female inmates, would be recertified.
In the letter to Lynch, Bass said the men’s jail “is certifiable under a plan of action.” This plan of action was outlined during the Oct. 22 meeting and included steps to correct the deficiencies.
Also during the meeting, Tonya West, defense facility specialist, said one of the deficiencies at the men’s jail was medical.
“Physicals have to be completed on every inmate that comes into the facility within 14 days,” West said. “That wasn’t happening. Some were a couple weeks past that 14 days, which puts you in non-compliance.”
West said medical personnel at the jail informed inspectors that “there was no staff” to bring inmates to them for the physicals.
“The second issue was the kitchen,” West continued during the meeting. “Inmates are not being supervised when they are cooking meals, especially in the morning shift.”
This happened because only one correctional officer was working the night shift at the men’s jail, West also said.
Bass told the panel that following the initial inspection of a jail facility, the staff is given 60 days to correct any deficiencies found during that inspection. Following that 60-day period, the facility is inspected again to see if the deficiencies have been corrected.
“From the initial inspection to the re-inspection, every deficiency, except for the medical and the supervision of the kitchen trustees, had been corrected,” West told the panel. “… You could tell (the jail staff) made every effort to come into compliance. And they would have if not for the staffing issue and the 14-day physicals.”
West said this led her to recommend the jail lose its certification; however, she did say that recommendation would be reviewed by the Tennessee Corrections Institute (TCI) Board of Control on Dec. 3. In his letter, Bass said that Lynch and Sheriff Mike Hensley are required to attend that meeting in Nashville.
During this meeting, county officials may present a plan of action (POA) developed during the Oct. 22 meeting in an effort to maintain the jail’s certification.
“We have to come up with a plan of action that will tell the board how we are going to fix these issues and how they are going to stay fixed,” Bass said during the Oct. 22 meeting.
In his letter to Lynch, Bass said West “will do a spot check at the jail” on Friday, Nov. 21, to make sure the deficiency regarding the inmate physicals has been corrected. Depending on what West finds at the inspection, a plan of action to present to the TCI board may not be necessary, Bass also states in his letter.
“It is my hope and goal that the board will certify you without placing the jail under a POA,” Bass continues. “They have the power and authority to do so.”
Regardless of the outcome of the TCI meeting, Bass said he wants to meet with county officials in December to outline a plan for the future.
“At this meeting in December we can then ascertain if we need to change our focus and strategy to a new set of challenges,” he writes. “We should identify the challenges and then move forward.”
Bass also addresses the consolidation of the county’s two detention facilities – a topic that was also discussed during the Oct. 22 meeting.
“I have been asked lately if the possibility of redesigning the downtown jail to hold females can be used,” Bass writes. “It is my understanding that the recent vacated offices, such as the 911 and sheriff’s administration staff moved due to physical plant plumbing issues. To correct them, as serious as they are, would be a paramount challenge, which would come no doubt with a very high cost. … We can talk about the possibilities at the December meeting.”
A date for the December meeting had not been announced prior to The Erwin Record’s press deadline.