MARYVILLE (WATE) - Officials say the Blount County Jail is severely overcrowded, with 190 more inmates than capacity. About a third of those are state or federal inmates.
The high jail population actually helps taxpayers, because the county gets paid for every inmate taken. The inmates' medical expenses are also paid by the government.
The jail was designed to hold 350 beds, but it was constructed in 1999 when the county's population was much lower than it is now.
Now, some inmates are spending part of their time in the intake cells because there's so little space.
Overcrowding also means a greater threat to the safety of the staff.
"We're staffed for 350 inmates, so anytime you have more than that it's a burden. I think they're at a safety risk, and also at a safety risk are other inmates that might be here for misdemeanor type crimes and we're not able to classify correctly due to overpopulation," said Sheriff James Berrong.
For each inmate the government sends, the jail gets $58.50 per day.
"The federal government, we deal with the United States Marshal service and we take what we can handle which is about 180 inmates, which is a great benefit to the taxpayers of this county. We just give them the best we have. We're trying to keep them at 80 so that if we have to transfer inmates to and from different states or different parts of East Tennessee," Sheriff Berrong added.
Federal inmates get priority when it comes to a bed, rather than a mat on the floor.
"The feds are in the beds, judge's order or the contract we have with them. His rule suggests strongly that we keep them in the beds. We've done that and will continue to do that," the sheriff said.
The state requires that Blount County take on some of its prisoners as well.
"They pay us $37 a day to house those, but we don't have an option. They don't really get those inmates for overcrowded. They leave them in here. They do deduct population off the TCI. They do deduct their inmates off of there before they consider certification," Berrong said.
A few years ago, a check from the federal government paid for about half of the jail's budget for the year. However, there are fewer federal inmates coming in than there were then.
The sheriff is turning in his jail reports to the county so officials are aware of the overcrowding situation.
An expansion to the jail is not on the table just yet, and officials say it would take years before the project could be completed.
A Maryville woman led the Blount County Sheriff deputies on a high speed chase Tuesday morning that ended in a two vehicle accident. Angel A. Foster, 31, of Blount Avenue, Maryville, is currently receivingMore >>
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