BLOUNTVILLE, Tenn. — Architects who are designing a master plan to alleviate overcrowding at Sullivan County’s jail facilities said Thursday the best route is to build a new jail for an estimated $110 million on a new site.
Renovation and expansion options are still on the table at an estimated cost of $84.7 million for both buildings.
None of the options have been voted on by the County Commission yet, but a new jail could be more efficiently operated, according to Michael Brandy Inc. (MBI) principal architect Jay Henderlight and TreanorHL architect John Eisenlau. It would also take 2 1/2 years to design and build, compared to at least three years to renovate and expand the current facilities.
Both men presented preliminary designs to several county officials Thursday morning and to the County Commission at its work session later in the day.
MBI was hired by the commission and partnered with TreanorHL to develop a master plan for renovation and expansion of the two current facilities. Later, they were asked to also develop a design for a new jail on a new site with the option for the county and city courts to be located there. The master plan is slated to be completed in October.
Renovation and expansion options include an additional 560 beds at the main jail, which would bring its capacity to 939, and building onto the second facility, known as the extension, to house 480 inmates, increasing the number of inmates it could hold by 240. That would more than double the capacity of the jail facilities from 619 to 1,419. The expansions would be built to allow for an additional 150 beds to be added onto the main jail and 240 at the extension in the future.
Currently, the total inmate population at the two buildings is more than 1,000.
A one-story expansion would be built onto the back of the main jail with a mezzanine level and a similar addition onto one end of the extension, increasing the combined size of the buildings by 175,000 square feet and renovating 125,000 square feet.
The addition to the main jail would include a new kitchen, medical clinic, laundry room and intake, booking and transfer areas, as well as new storage and central control areas.
Both expansions would be podular designs, instead of the current linear setups, with only two to four inmates housed in each cell and would house the architects’ projected 15-year increase in inmates.
Currently, there are between 30 and 50 inmates in dormitory-style, or open-room, cells behind one door, which jail officials have noted is a safety risk for the inmates and the officers. A podular design allows for better control and supervision of the inmates.
Based on discussions with county and jail officials, Henderlight and Eisenlau said renovation and expansion of the current facilities or a new jail is only part of the solution. The other half is to build spaces for drug and alcohol recovery, behavioral and life skills programs for inmates while they’re in jail — to reduce the likelihood that they’ll be rearrested after they’re released. Space is very limited to offer those programs now.
To accomplish that, their designs have a classroom for programs inside every new cell block in both facilities — 10 in the main jail and four in the extension.
Sullivan County Public Defender Andrew Gibbons said Thursday the problem is that inmates who haven’t been convicted can’t qualify for programs. Right now, 64% of the inmates haven’t been convicted, according to Tennessee Department of Correction data presented by Henderlight and Eisenlau.
The second option would be not to build onto the extension, leaving all of the women in the current main jail and housing the rest of the men in the expansion.
The third option is to build a nearly 297,000-square-foot 1,400-inmate jail on a 30-acre site in Blountville with the option to place the courts there in the future.
The plans presented Thursday differ from what was presented to some county officials in August by a decrease in the number of total beds to 1,400 from 1,500, and a preliminary design of the third option was shown for the first time.