Tennessee Jail Overcrowding Spurs Expansion Project

By Eric Althoff

Cheatham County, Tenn. — A Tennessee jail project is on the move after Cheatham County commissioners officially approved a resolution to renovate the facility, according to the Tennessean.  The county is now in the process of choosing an architect for expansion to some 250 beds from the current capacity of 116. 

“When I came into office almost two years ago, the State of Tennessee had Cheatham County on notice of decertification if the county did not address our jail that has 116 beds and at times running over 200 inmates,” Cheatham County Mayor Kerry R. McCarver informed Correctional News.  “The county had basically ignored the warnings in hope the problem would either solve itself or just go away.” 

The jail, constructed in the 1980s, failed to meet requirements imposed by the Tennessee Corrections Institute, making the upgrade that much more necessary.  McCarver said the overcrowding was one of the most important issues to address, and that the county commission will soon hire an architect to guide the county from conception on into design and construction as part of a long-term solution. 

The crowding has even led to some fights among the inmates, the Tennessean reported.

“We must address not only the bed count, but make sure we provide rehabilitation so inmates have hope of a better life for themselves and their families,” McCarver said.

The county’s current recidivism rate is approximately 90 percent, the mayor explained, thanks largely to the lack of jail space or job training that would potentially head off inmates from recycling back into jail again upon release. 

To pay for the upgrade, Cheatham County has resorted to property taxes. 

“Property tax will shoulder the main share of the costs, but with sales tax on the rise, we may be able to capture some of those funds to cover the costs,” McCarver said.  “Property owners never like a tax, but they should not and will not tolerate lawbreakers living in their neighborhoods when they should be locked up and off the streets. 

“It is a large part of the cost to ensure [that] quality of life remains at the top of expectations for all our families and communities in Cheatham County.”

According to the Tennessean, at a meeting held April 10, state and county officials discussed the needs of the jail, which included rehabilitation facilities, training areas as well as medical units for both female and male inmates.  It was also paramount that the new structure complement the existing jail and architecture of historic courthouse.  An architect is expected be chosen at the next meeting on July 15, with a projected completion date aimed at before 2020.