Blount leaders considering modular units to help with jail overcrowding

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MARYVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – Time and again we hear of jail overcrowding in East Tennessee. This week, Blount County leaders discussed options to tackle those numbers by adding modular units to the detention center.

Blount County leaders say there are many uncertainties because they’re in the researching phase.

Before any kind of decision is made, Blount County leaders say they’ll be visiting another county where modular buildings are already being used at a jail. They also want to get a look at the manufacturing process.

More: Monthly report on jail populations across Tennessee

The Blount County Sheriff’s Office says there are currently 617 inmates at their detention center, but they’re certified for 350.

From March 1 to Oct. 17 the average inmate population at the detention center was 613: 447 male inmates, 126 female inmates.

Blount County Mayor Ed Mitchell says modular units are a fast, efficient way to help with jail overcrowding.

“I believe the buildings are, and I’ve not been in one, but these are steel buildings, floor, wall and ceiling,” Mitchell said.

County leaders have not decided how many modular buildings they would purchase if they move forward.

“It could be four, it could be eight, it could be 10, we’re just not sure,” Mitchell said.

Charles Sterling, the project manager for the Community Justice Initiative in Blount County, says it’s too soon to know how many inmates would be housed in a modular unit.

“Some units are dorm style, which would be minimum security,” Sterling said. “But then there will be some with what they call a ‘wet cell’ two bunks and the toilet and sink facility in the cell, and those could be medium and maximum security.”

We’re told modular buildings must meet Tennessee Corrections Institute standards.

“There will be direct supervision which means a correctional officer in direct contact and video supervision, a combination to make it work the best,” Sterling said.

More research will happen before county leaders bring this to county commission to discuss and ultimately vote on.

“I think it’s a win-win,” Mitchell said. “It’s considerably less cost and if the time ever came where you did not need them anymore, they could be moved and used on another site.”

There’s no price tag yet, however county leaders estimate each modular building to cost $1.4 million.

While some in the community have concerns, many say this is a smart option.

“Well the issue would be containment, and if the containment factor was able to be there and safety for the public. I think we’ve got to put them somewhere and if jails are overcrowded, then we have to do what we have to do to adapt to the situation,” said Elene Stellas of Blount County.

“I think it would be a great idea. I actually witnessed in Titusville, Florida, they have these things called the annex, where it’s like tent basically, they’re well structured. They actually allow people to have more room to move,” said Makaila Cooney of Blount County.

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