Coffee County Plans to Use Old Jail

MANCHESTER, Tenn. — A new jail in Coffee County, Tenn., is currently under construction. The $22 million project is slated to be complete in August 2014.

The new facility will feature an administrative building and two jail pods. These pods will have a unique design, each featuring a two-tiered open structure with dual-capacity rooms located on the edges of the pod on each level. Each pod will house 200 inmates, for a total maximum capacity of 400.

While construction is progressing smoothly for the new facility, questions have been raised concerning the fate of the old facility. The Coffee County Jail Review Committee agreed that the jail would have to remain as is, in large part because of the useful sallyport attached to the building. This garage-like area allows inmates to move in and out of the prison to police cars or the courthouse without actually going outside.

One possibility under consideration is converting the jail into a lower-security facility appropriate for non-violent inmates with sentences shorter than 12 months. Any empty cells could be used to house offenders with sentences of 48 hours or offenders charged with various misdemeanors.

Maintaining the old facility could save significant amounts of money in the future, according to Coffee County Mayor David Pennington. Building a third pod is expected to cost $7 million, but this cost could be postponed if the old facility is used as a backup space if the new facility reaches maximum capacity. Overcrowding would be avoided and it would provide additional time for the county to discuss potential plans to expand the new facility.

The second major point of discussion was the work release program. These low-security inmates, whose offenses generally include various misdemeanors, work for the county, city and nonprofit organizations during the day and go back to the jail facility at night. The jail takes 30 percent of the inmates’ paychecks and the remaining 70 percent is sent to the inmates’ families. The 30 percent the jail keeps pays for the work release program fees — $15 to $30 per night for offenders to stay in the jail, as well as various drug-testing fees.

This program was in effect at the old Coffee County Jail for about four years, but limited staff forced them to shut it down, according to Sheriff Steven Graves. The committee is working to determine if the old jail can be modified to meet the necessary standards to house the work release program again once the new facility is up and running.

The committee will pose the issue to Bob Bass from the Tennessee Corrections Institute and meet with him for further discussion at a later date.