Fraley, department prep for jail inspection on Friday

Published 3:54 pm Tuesday, September 6, 2022

Elizabethton Star
Certification of the Carter County Detention Center hangs in the balance on Friday as inspectors from the Tennessee Corrections Institute return for a follow-up inspection.
The TCI inspected the jail facility on July 13, citing shortfalls and failures in seven key categories, ranging from maintenance issues to lack of training and staffing.
Sheriff Mike Fraley, who took office Sept. 1, said preparing for Friday’s inspection is “one reason I’ve been going 90 mph” since his election.
Fraley appointed Matt Patterson, an employee with 10 years of experience at the center, as the new administrator, and Barbara Scalf, who has 30 years of experience, as assistant.
“The new jail administrator has been working non-stop along with the staff to get the maintenance issues taken care of,” Fraley said. “I’ve been going through (the facility) a couple times a day to make sure they are in compliance … They’ve made leaps and bounds in progress.”
Maintenance issues cited in the July inspection report include such issues as showers not draining, lights not working, a lack of hot water in some areas, missing ceiling tiles and leaking sinks.
“And we’re drafting a plan of action to get the long-term issues resolved,” Fraley said.
Those long-term issues cited in the inspection report include both a lack of staff and a lack of training, issues which Fraley said “didn’t happen overnight and won’t get fixed overnight.”
Previous sheriff Dexter Lunceford was vocal about the challenges he faced in staffing the jail and department, citing a lack of support from the Carter County Commission, particularly as he asked for additional funding for salaries.
When inspected in July, only 32 of the 55 full-time detention positions were filled, many with employees pulled from other divisions.
One of Fraley’s first projects was to evaluate the staffing at the detention center, streamline duties and responsibilities and ensure that certified jailers are manning the center.
“As of (Tuesday) we have 19 employees trying to cover the detention center, 24 hours a day,” Fraley said. “I need at least 12 to 16 more before I can breathe easier.”
Patterson is interviewing candidates daily, and Fraley said he is hopeful a Civil Service test being offered on Sept. 13 will result in more qualified candidates for the positions.
“These problems didn’t happen overnight and they’re not going to get fixed overnight,” Fraley said.
That is why he is hopeful the TCI will accept the plan being compiled to address the staffing shortages and training issues.
If the plan isn’t sufficient to address TCI concerns, the facility could lose its certification and, in turn, the ability to house inmates for the state or other counties — an important revenue stream for the department.
“Worst-case scenario, we could get shut down and lose our ability to house inmates,” Fraley said. “Then we’d have to send our prisoners someplace else and pay to have them housed.”
But Fraley said he is working tirelessly to avoid loss of certification.
“I knew what I was getting into (when I ran for office) and I never dreamed it would be easy,” he said. “I’m not afraid to make the hard decisions.”

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