Tennessee’s jails are bursting at the seams, The Tennessean reports. Nearly half of the state’s 109 jails have more inmates than beds, some holding two or three times as many inmates as they are certified for. Many detainees find themselves sleeping on floors in common areas, using portable showers and toilets brought in so jails remain legal to operate. They’re subject to be shipped off to other counties when the fire marshal comes calling or the floor space runs out.
Such overcrowding is costly. Counties with more inmates than beds may find themselves more vulnerable to lawsuits, see their jail insurance policies skyrocket or get canceled, have to pay another county to house some of their inmates or be forced to build a new jail. And jails are expensive. In June, Carter County opened a new $26 million jail with 296 beds. By the end of October, all but 18 beds were filled. Since 2011, 24 counties have built, are building or are in the planning stages of building new jails to house the overflow of inmates. The Tennessee Department of Correction is opening a new state prison in Bledsoe County with 1,500 beds. This is a drop in the bucket considering that there are nearly 5,000 state felons waiting in jail for prison beds to open up. State statistics show an untenable jail situation. Since 2003, the number of state inmates has risen by 4.5 percent. Jail populations during that time have grown nearly 42 percent.