Carter County Jail certification in limbo until December; state cites critically low staffing issues

Published 3:42 pm Monday, September 12, 2022

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Despite improvements, Carter County Jail certification status will remain in limbo until December due to critically low staffing issues.
Inspectors with the Tennessee Corrections Institute conducted a reinspection of the Carter County Jail on Friday and despite improvements having been made, said the certification status will not be determined until the board meets in December.
According to a release from the sheriff’s department, TCI Detention Facility Specialist Jason Cate, who inspected the jail in July and again on Friday, told Sheriff Mike Fraley that with the current staffing issues he could not recommend the jail be recertified.
However, Cate said he would assist the department in any way he could, including visiting the jail facility again before the TCI Board of Control meeting and, if the staffing issue had improved, he would inform the board he would recommend the jail receive its recertification.
“I am pleased that TCI is willing to work with us, and that they understand the staffing issue is something that could not be fixed within the nine days between my taking office and their reinspection,” Fraley said.
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.
Fraley, who took office Sept. 1, said last week his staff had addressed many of the maintenance issues cited in the July inspection and was developing a long-term plan to address other issues, notably the lack of staffing.
When inspected in July, only 32 of the 55 full-time detention positions were filled, many with employees pulled from other divisions. A week ago, Fraley said he had 19 employees trying to cover the detention center, 24 hours a day. “With the maintenance issues now corrected we can fully focus on recruiting and retaining staff in our jail,” he said.
The primary concern expressed by TCI officials following their inspection on Friday was what they termed “life safety issues” that were attributed to the critically low staffing of the jail.
“I am proud of the hard work by the Corrections Division to correct many of the issues cited in the July inspection report,” Fraley said. “Staffing has been a long-term issue at the sheriff’s department, most notably within the Corrections Division and in our School Resource Officer program. These issues did not happen overnight and cannot be fixed overnight.”
Following the inspection, TCI officials met with Fraley, Chief Deputy Jeff Gazzo, Jail Administrator Capt. Matt Patterson, and Assistant Jail Administrator Lt. Barbara Scalf to discuss their findings and the next steps going forward.
Fraley said his administrative team has begun reaching out to former corrections officers who recently left to invite them to return. He also noted a civil service test will be held Tuesday, Sept. 13, at 6 p.m. at the TCAT-Elizabethton campus which will also provide a pool of potential employees. Applications will be available for the test for anyone interested in a job at the sheriff’s office. “The raise approved by the County Commission for this fiscal year should help with retaining the employees we have and recruiting new or returning employees,” Fraley said. “I am confident that we can increase our jail staff before the December TCI Board of Control meeting and retain our certification.”

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