Sheriff: ‘Magic wand’ won’t fix jail deficiencies cited in inspection report; money will

Published 3:51 pm Friday, July 22, 2022

Report cites jail deficiencies; sheriff points to lack of funding
Sheriff Dexter Lunceford said deficiencies cited in a recent inspection of the Carter County Jail are a result of short staffing and a lack of funding from the Carter County Commission.
“I’ve been telling them this was going to happen for six months, and they just looked at me with ‘deer in headlights’ looks,” Lunceford said. “It should not be news to them.”
The Tennessee Corrections Institute conducted its annual inspection of the jail facility on July 13 and cited deficiencies in seven of the 14 measured categories: administration/management; personnel training; security; discipline; sanitation/maintenance; admission, records and release; and supervision of inmates.
Lunceford said the TCI will conduct a second investigation on Sept. 9, at which point the jail could lose its certification if deficiencies are not corrected.
“We will fail,” Lunceford added. “And if we fail, they may decertify us at that point.”
Losing certification would open the jail to higher insurance rates, potential lawsuits as well as exclude the jail from the possibility of housing federal or state inmates, which in the past has been a source of revenue for the department, he said.
Lunceford, who lost his bid for a third term in office, will not oversee the September inspection, but he believes the issues cannot be resolved with addressing the root cause: lack of funding for pay increases in his department.
With a significantly understaffed department, Lunceford said he had requested an additional $1 million in his budget to increase pay across his department in an effort to retain and hire employees. “I’m having to supplement staff in the jail with patrol officers,” he said.
Lunceford said his patrol officers earn on average $6 per hour less than surrounding departments, adding that the pay discrepancies increase significantly across his department.
As of Thursday, the jail was staffed at 30 percent of the required level — an average of three employees per shift, when it should have 10 employees.
“People are overworked and they start making mistakes,” he said. “And the things that need to get done — maintenance, training — they don’t get done because you don’t have the time and manpower to do it.”
According to the TCI inspection report, the department had only 32 of 55 full-time positions filled on July 13 with only three of six part-time positions filled. In citing a security discrepancy, the TCI said “facility doesn’t have sufficient correctional staff to perform functions of the jail. Facility is currently using law enforcement officers to fill on shifts with correctional staff.”
Lunceford said the inability to hire and retain personnel continues to create challenges. “Patrol officers start quitting because they don’t want to work in the jail,” he said.
Lunceford blames the county commission for “playing politics” with funding requests this year, citing its refusal to give his department the additional funding for necessary pay increases to be allocated at his discretion.
“I needed a 20 percent pay increase this year,” he said. “We really need 50 percent to get us where we need to be (to offer pay based on regional averages).”
He said the $1 million he requested “would have stopped the bleed.”
But commissioners refused to approve the request. “They wanted to micromanage the department … to say who gets a raise and who doesn’t,” he said.
And while the commission did approve a $2,000 across the board raise for all county employees earlier this month, Lunceford said it is too little and too late to help the jail situation.
On July 1, he ended the contract with the U.S. Marshals Service to house federal inmates, a service which he said will cost the county about $1.5 million in lost revenue each year. “We don’t have the staff to do it,” he said, adding that the jail averaged 50 federal inmates at $60 per day, plus added benefits of mileage and overtimed paid for officers.
And he reduced the contract for state inmates from 30 per day to 20 per day, again citing the lack of staff.
“I told the commissioners we were going to get to a critical level in the jail,” he said, adding “the commission seems to think that come September 1, when the new sheriff takes over, he can wave a magic wand” and fix the problems.
“Before I leave on Aug. 31, I will make the new sheriff a magic wand and leave it on my desk for him. He can just wave it and make all this go away.”
To read the full report click here: Carter County Jail TCI Inspection Report – July 2022

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