Sheriff dealing with multiple problems at the jail

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

By Karen Hall


Recently elected Sheriff Billy Lamb has taken over a jail with many problems, and he told members of the county commission's law enforcement committee about them at a meeting on Oct. 14.

The Sheriff's Department signed a 36-month contract for telephone service for the inmates in July 2013, Lamb said. As far as he could tell from the documents, a video visitation system was supposed to be included, but was never installed.

"It looks to me that's what the bid specified," Lamb told committee members.

"We need to get it, or get our money back," exclaimed Mickey King.

Video visitation allows prisoners to stay in their cell block, in a special booth, and see their visitor's face on a monitor, while talking to them by telephone.

The current system is "about gone" and causing major problems, Lamb said.

"Visitation is hard," agreed jail administrator Sabrina Patterson. "We're getting cussed at by the inmates and the families."

The company which put in the current system went out of business, Patterson said, and no other company will even come to look at it. With the limited number of monitors working, people who want a visit with their loved one who is in jail have to reserve a time slot.

"You've got to call early or you won't get a visitation," Patterson said.

Other problems at the jail, Lamb said, include roof leaks. The jail was only built in 2005, so committee members were shocked that the roof was leaking, and asked Lamb to find out if the roof was still under warranty.

There are also problems with the toilets, which are supposed to be tamperproof and more sturdy than ordinary fixtures, but are correspondingly more expensive to repair.

"It took $10,000 and all their (spare) parts to fix (the toilets in) C Block," said Patterson.

As early as mid-September, Lamb sent Capt. Bob Johnson to a meeting of the budget committee to warn them running the jail was likely to cost more than what was in former sheriff Norman Dalton's budget.

"We inherited the budget," said Johnson. "It looks like we're going to go over budget on some things this year. We're speculating this is going to happen."

For instance, it appears that $300,479 was spent on feeding prisoners in 2013-2014, but only $250,000 was put in the 2014-2015 budget for food.

Another area the Sheriff's Department might go over budget is in overtime pay.

"The Sheriff wants three people (dispatchers) on a shift and more deputies on the road," said Johnson. "It may require more overtime. He wanted me to tell you, and show you why we might go over."

There are also major issues with the control tower, Patterson said. The jail doors are unlocked by signals from the control tower computer system and lately the system has been literally locking up, with alarm signals going off and doors not working.

"It could be a major situation if the doors don't open," she said.

Committee members unanimously approved a motion for Lamb to get someone there as soon as possible to look at the computer system and get a cost to upgrade or replace it.

The Sheriff's Department is paid by the state for housing prisoners who would otherwise be in Tennessee Department of Corrections facilities, though Lamb questioned whether this really covered the cost of their keep. The jail also houses prisoners for the City of Lewisburg, which has no jail. Sometime during Les Helton's 20-year term as sheriff, the city started making a one-time payment of $30 per prisoner, but no one has been able to find the contract for this.

"We need to see if we can find the contract," said King. "The sheriff can talk to the (police) chief .Surely we've got a contract. It should increase with the cost of living."

"It may have been a gentleman's handshake," said committee member R.L. Williams.

In addition to choosing King as their chairman, law enforcement committee members chose Joseph Warner as vice chairman and John Christmas, who was not there, as secretary. Members of the committee are Christmas, Sheldon Davis, King, Warner, and Williams.