The Blount County Adult Detention Facility has been housing federal inmates for over a decade. We have been told that the reason for doing so is because the county “makes money” housing the inmates because the county receives a per diem from the federal government. In the last year, the rhetoric has changed from making money to offsetting fixed expenditures.
Some of the federal inmates were removed from the Blount County jail in 2015. The question remains: why?
On November 11, The Daily Times reported Deputy Chief Jarrod Millsaps saying, “We’ve had to decrease our population in the facility in regards to federal inmates just because of the overcrowding issue.” However, at November 30th Blount County Corrections Partnership (BCCP) meeting, I (Tona Monroe) asked Sheriff James Berrong why some of the federal inmates had been removed. He refused to tell me saying that was between him and them (the US Marshals Service).
The reason that I asked is because Commissioners Tom Stinnett and Rick Carver have stated publically that the jail consultant that the county hired to do a criminal justice system assessment called Washington DC to have the federal inmates removed from the jail. Did these two parrot what the Sheriff told them? It appears to me that the Sheriff was trying to sour them on the jail consultant, possibly to get them to vote no on hearing from the jail consultant on his findings and conclusions about the study that we taxpayers paid him to do. The consultant Alan Kalmanoff said he did not call Washington DC to have the federal prisoners removed.
The sheriff also said at the November BCCP meeting that the inmates could have been removed because I called Washington DC to have them removed. I did not. I did call the US Marshals Service Knoxville office after some of the inmates were removed to inquire why they were removed.
The man I spoke with told me that he couldn’t tell me because their agreement was with the Sheriff. He told me that the US Marshals Service conducts its own jail inspection and that the inspection was not subject to release under the Freedom of Information Act.
More questions emerge from this situation. Should such secrecy exist? Should the sheriff be allowed to contract with the US Marshal’s Service without approval from the commission and mayor? Should federal inmates be housed if the population exceeds the bed capacity? Why were some of the federal inmates removed but not all?
If it is just due to the overcrowding issue as Deputy Chief Millsaps said, why didn’t the Sheriff just say so when I asked him? Why would the US Marshals Service refuse to say that it was overcrowding? If it is overcrowding, is there a number above bed capacity that triggers removal of federal inmates?
The Sheriff mentioned people calling Washington DC more than once at the Nov. 30th BCCP meeting. Based on his response to my questions, it’s easy to speculate that someone called Washington DC to have the federal inmates removed. However, I don’t know too many people who can pick up the phone and easily make things move with the federal government.
It’s not exactly clear exactly how many inmates (prisoners) were removed. A letter from the Sheriff’s Office to the Tennessee Corrections Institute says that the federal government removed 47 inmates but the US Marshals Service told me that 36 inmates were removed. One possible explanation given was the way the US Marshals Service accounts for inmates going to court. The US Marshals Service said that was possible but didn’t deny or confirm that as an explanation for the difference.
Is there something more to this story? I don’t know. The Sheriff and the US Marshals Service have refused to say and everyone else that I have talked with doesn’t know anymore than I do. I have tried to find out but I’ve hit a wall of secrecy and the head banging is unproductive.
What would be productive is for the state legislature to limit the risks to the county associated with housing discretionary inmates in an overcrowded facility by prohibiting anyone from having unilateral authority to make this decision. The state legislature should require that any such contract be approved by the legislative body of the county and should prohibit a facility exceeding capacity from housing discretionary inmates.
For more information read these posts:
December 2015 Commission Report
TCI Board of Control member: Blount County could use a nice 100,000 person jail
November 2015 Commission Report
Jail and Criminal Justice System Info