Tensions and an insufficient jail

Shortly after Sheriff James Lee Berrong told the Tennessee Corrections Institute Board of Control about $1 million being earmarked with a plan for another million, he began sending letters to Mayor Ed Mitchell about tensions in the jail.  Copies of the letters were also provided to Craig Garrett, County Attorney (the office of County Attorney has never been created by a private act of the Tennessee General Assembly) and Blount County Commissioners.

When I say letters, I received copies of two letters, one dated September 9, 2015 and the other dated October 28, 2015.  You can read those letters and the additional info that was included with each here.  Shortly after these letter, I began asking questions about federal inmates and discovered the secret plan for money to expand the jail.

Both letters contain the same statement from Sheriff Berrong.  “As you know, if the problem persists, which we expect it will, the repercussions could be detrimental to not only the Sheriff’s Office, but to Blount County also. We are seeing increased tensions in the facility.”

If this is true, why doesn’t the sheriff have the federal inmates and the state sentenced felons, with a sentence of more than a year, removed?  The county is under no obligation to keep either.  State law says counties do not have to house felons with sentences longer than one year in their local jails.  The sheriff himself, signed a contract with the US Marshals Service, without commission approval to house federal inmates in the local jail.  I’ve never been shown what law gives the sheriff authority to sign the contract instead of the mayor.

State law authorizes the sheriff to have the inmates removed to another jail, if the jail is insufficient.  There is an Attorney General opinion on the matter.  See answers to questions 5 and 6.  Considering that the sheriff is voluntarily housing inmates, then he should be taking action to move inmates out of the jail if he thinks the repercussions of his actions, to house discretionary inmates, could be detrimental to the Sheriff’s Office and Blount County.

From LexisNexis

Tenn. Code Ann. § 41-4-121

TENNESSEE CODE ANNOTATED
© 2016 by The State of Tennessee
All rights reserved

*** Current through the 2015 Regular Session ***

Title 41  Correctional Institutions and Inmates  
Chapter 4  Jails and Jailers

Tenn. Code Ann. § 41-4-121  (2016)

41-4-121.  Safekeeping of prisoners — Sufficient jails. 

 (a) The sheriff has the authority, when the jail of the county is insufficient for the safekeeping of a prisoner, to convey the prisoner to the nearest sufficient jail in the state.

(b) In all cases where it is shown to the committing magistrate, judge or court that the jail of the county in which the commitment should be made is insufficient for the safekeeping of the prisoner, the commitment shall be by mittimus or warrant stating the fact to the nearest sufficient county jail.

(c) In all cases where the jail in which a prisoner is confined becomes insufficient from any cause, any circuit or criminal judge, upon the application of the sheriff and proof of the fact, may order the prisoner, by mittimus or warrant, to be removed to the nearest sufficient jail.

HISTORY: Code 1858, §§ 5402-5404 (deriv. Acts 1809 (Sept.), ch. 126, § 4; 1817, ch. 17, § 1); Shan., §§ 7380-7382; Code 1932, §§ 11989-11991; T.C.A. (orig. ed.), §§ 41-1123 — 41-1125.

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