Inmates vandalize Hamblen County jail at taxpayers' expense

5:58 PM, Oct 17, 2012   |    comments
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Inmates in the Hamblen County jail have vandalized their cell doors to the point they are no longer working and will cost taxpayer money to repair.

On Wednesday, inmates were roaming behind the locked doors of the main cell block. The 35-year-old facility combined with inmate ingenuity shut down their motorized cell doors.

"It makes it very dangerous for our officers that have to go in there," said Asst. Jail Administrator Lt. Gerry Hambrick.

Lt. Hambrick said inmates are shoving bed sheets and clothing into the tracks of the sliding cell doors. The items get sucked up into the motor causing it to malfunction.

"They are very creative. If they could put that to use in the outside world, some of them would do very well for themselves," he said.

In the process, some inmates locked themselves inside their cells, which is a fire and safety hazard. The jail was forced to open all the doors. Now inmates can go in and out of the common room as they please.

"There's a lot more fights because there is nothing to keep them separated from each other. It's 40 inmates on one officer when he has to go in there and do something," Lt. Hambrick said.

Lt. Hambrick calls the inmates actions a lack of respect for authority and property. He said he has also witnessed them busting lights and destroying mattresses.

The sheriff's office has already spent $14,000 on recent upgrades to the doors. Their options are another temporary fix at the same price or replacing all of the doors for $120,000.

"Ultimately it falls on the backs of the taxpayers which nobody is happy with," said Chief Deputy Wayne Mize.

It is up to the Hamblen County Commission to appropriate new funds for the repairs or a new jail.

The sheriff's office doesn't have any room in their budget.

Two years ago, inmates were flooding their cells by flushing large items down the toilet. That problem cost $50,000 to fix.

The sheriff's office said the inmates face criminal charges if they are caught vandalizing the jail property.

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