(WBIR-Blount County) After hiring a consulting company to study options to combat jail overcrowding, Blount County officials said they want to know the potential costs before deciding how to fix the growing issue.
As of Wednesday, there were 510 inmates in the Blount County Detention Center, which is only certified to house 350.
Last April, WBIR 10News reported on the same issue. Since then, the county paid the Institute for Law and Police Planning, based out of California, to evaluate the Blount County Justice System. The firm presented the summary Tuesday night.
"We knew we had 600 people in a 350 bed facility, but what was the best way to approach the problem?," said Tab Burkhalter, a county commissioner and Chairman of the Blount County Corrections Partnership. "So on top of the quarter-of-a-million dollars to for the consultant, in January, we implemented a pre-trail release program."
Wednesday, the Blount County Probation Department told 10News 12 people were in the program, which allows some accused offenders to be monitored with an electronic device instead of serving time in jail while waiting for their trial.
"We knew it would not solve the problem but we knew every step that we could take to at least remove one or two people out of the system would be a positive benefit," said Burkhalter.
The study recommended changing policies and procedures, or building a new facility.
"At a minimum, we could be looking at a $62 million build. That's an extremely expensive build so we definitely want to be looking at all the other options available," said Burkhalter.
One option recommended no longer housing state and federal inmates. As of Wednesday, 117 inmates were federal prisoners, and 129 were state inmates.
"Removing federal prisoners will alleviate some, but it won't solve the problem," said Burkhalter. "Plus we lose tax revenue."
However, the study explained despite getting a $58.50 per diem per federal inmate, and a $37 per diem per state inmate, the cost of food, transportation, personnel, and supplies were not accounted for.
The firm also recommended creating a drug rehabilitation and treatment program similar to Chattanooga.
"Single handedly, prescription pills account for over half of the drug offenses that are inside of our jail. They're non-violent. They don't need incarceration as much as they need rehabilitation and treatment," said Burkhalter.
Burkhalter said the average time behind bars for non-violent offenders in Blount County was 51 days.
"We could open up some of the cells by removing those non-violent offenders," said Burkhalter. "Chattanooga is addressing the prescription pill problem that we have here in Blount. See what Chattanooga has done, and learn from that best case model, and implement it here."
Burkhalter said the third main option would be implementing a classification similar to Knox County. Currently, Blount County only classifies inmates as minimum or maximum security, but the study showed 65% of offenders in the jail should actually be classified as medium security.
"We don't have enough space to properly classify," said Burkhalter.
A weekend-work program and issuing citations in-lieu of arrests was also recommended.
Burkhalter said the Blount County Corrections Partnership is now waiting for the firm to issue a new report that will detail exact costs of the options.
"That way we can compare apples to apples," said Burkhalter.
If the partnership decides to build a new facility, he said they would need to decide the type of building and security classification.
After reviewing the final report, the Blount County Corrections Partnership will make recommendations to the County Commission.