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Officials Seek Solutions to Overcrowding Problem at Blount County Jail

Many jails in East Tennessee are facing overpopulation, a problem that's predicted to get worse. A committee in Blount County called the Community Justice Initiative has been searching for months for a solution to their crowded jail.

A recently released feasibility study shows the jail is roughly 250 inmates above capacity. It also points to a need to renovate a portion of and extend the jail, as well as consider building a different type of corrections facility. It's called a transitional center, and its purpose is to provide training and rehabilitation for inmates who suffer from addiction.

Ultimately, the study suggests this could help cut down on recidivism, which is a person coming back to jail after being released. County Commissioner Tom Stinnett is in favor of the idea.

"When I took office four years ago, I thought that people who had a drug problem could turn it on and off like a switch. Since I've been in office and had some education that state provided to us, I understand that they're sick and putting them in jail is not going to solve our problems," he said.

He's in favor of the study's suggestion of building a transitional center, equipped with programs aimed at helping get people function normally in society, but hasn't pledged his support for spending on the current jail. He believes getting to the core of the crime problem, in many cases substance abuse, will keep people out of jail and free up space.

Stinnett believes, at the moment, the jail services about 30 inmates per year for substance abuse. He explains the jail needs funding and infrastructure. He says funding says will help secure enough staff with the expertise to rehabilitate inmates. Currently, according to the study, the jail doesn't have the square footage for the classes and programs targeted to help the inmate population.

The study shows the current average daily population of the jail is 536 inmates. In 10 years, it is projected to be 691. In 20 years, it is expected to hit 786 per day.

"If we don't try to help these people and provide care for them, we're going to continue down the same path we've been on since the beginning of time," Stinnett added.

These are just suggestions proposed after months of research and surveying. Any changes to the current jail will require approval from the county commission.

If you'd like to chime in or hear more about the current state of the jail, the Blount County mayor is holding a community meeting Monday at 5:30 p.m. at the Blount County Library.

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