Commissioners Concerned About Additional $20,000 Daily Expense For Housing More Inmates

Hamilton County, TN – At the Hamilton County Commission meeting on Wednesday, a resolution was presented to approve the purchase of 200 extra beds for the Silverdale Detention Center at a cost of $44,000. 

Director Ron Bernard from the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office said, “While we are waiting for Phase 2 (breaking ground in January), which will include 128 additional beds and modular housing to add additional beds, we are going to be slightly over capacity.  This will allow us to add additional inmates in our current housing.” 

Due to COVID concerns, in March and April, Silverdale and Downtown’s inmate population was reduced to under 1,000 individuals combined. 

Bernard said, “As things opened back up, the numbers began creeping back up.” 

District 6 Commissioner David Sharpe said, “When addressing public safety issues, first priority is that we maintain the safest environment possible in our communities.  If we were able to reduce our population and maintain the level of public safety for which we expect in our community, what is happening now that is requiring us to increase capacity and spend additional taxpayer dollars?” 

Sharpe expressed that data on specific charges, repeat charges, and recidivism is critical to understanding how to approach local public safety. 

District 4 Commissioner Warren Mackey stated, “I need to know when the numbers were down, did crime go up? I’ve continued to be concerned about the trajectory of what it cost to house these prisoners and the numbers keep going up.” 

“On some level, you start thinking.  If we build the jails, will they come? And apparently, they will,” Mackey said.  “So, I want to do something that’s going to mitigate against the growth and the jail population.” 

At the time of the meeting, Bernard did not have the data that the commissioners were requesting but stated that the current inmate population of Downtown and Silverdale is around 1,250 combined. 

Regarding jail capacity, Bernard reported, “The certified capacity (for Silverdale) is right around 1,100.  I believe it’s officially 1,084. Downtown is 505 but we generally run above that.” 

“For several months, we’ve been hovering anywhere between 1,150 and 1,300 for both facilities combined,” Bernard said. 

Sharpe asked County Attorney Rheubin Taylor if there are any liability issues when inmate populations exceed certified numbers. 

Taylor replied, “Commissioner, let me just say, that there are always liability issues around.” 

Sharpe pointed out, “This is $44,000 resolution for 200 beds.  A one-time capital expense.  But the addition of 200 extra people into Silverdale at current expense rates is a $20,000 daily reoccurring expense. Every day these 200 beds cost us $20,000 in perpetuity.  That’s a major expense.” 

“So, $44,000 isn’t the big question here.  The question is $20,000 in perpetuity and if we don’t know specifically who we are putting in these beds, why we are putting them there, and if putting them there improves public safety.  That’s the key measure, ” Sharpe said. 

Due to the current need, the Council decided to go ahead and approve the $44,000 expenditure for the 200 beds, with two opposing votes to the resolution.

However, at a Security and Correction meeting next week, called by Commissioner Sharpe, the subject will be discussed again and the requested data will be provided by the Sheriff’s office. 

The main focus of next week’s meeting was to be the FUSE program, which is in the process of developing a system to find alternative housing and wraparound services for one hundred or more frequent users of the jail system. 

According to Sharpe, they are developing a method of addressing public safety, without just increasing beds at the jail, “with the goals of saving a significant amount of money and putting people in better environment tailored to their needs.” 

“I want to be very intentional, when spending taxpayer dollars, to make sure it is an effective use or if there is a better way to use that money. $20,000 a day can go a long way in a lot of different areas,” Sharpe said. 

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