Tales of woes, deaths, neglect and lawsuits now make East Tennessee jails a mockery. The governments of these counties are now the butts of jokes and ridicule in so far the conditions of jail inmates remain pitiful.
The genesis of these problems is the inhumane housing conditions of East Tennessee jails. Hundreds of accused persons who are awaiting trial and those too poor to post bonds are cramped into overcrowded jails.
Some of them sleep on floors running with seeping toilet water. Many inmates become very ill and uncared for and some eventually dying of infections. The jail conditions have often led to fights among inmates and attacks on guards and staff.
East Tennessee Jails: Taxpayers Lose Money with Federal Lawsuits and Decertifications
This situation has led to several wrongful death lawsuits slammed against Cocke, Sevier, Scott and Knox counties among other East Tennessee counties. Such legal intervention forced taxpayers in Knox County to cough up over $60 million to construct a new jail to house inmates.
A federal lawsuit also prompted another jail to be constructed in Sevier County. The same is the case with many other counties in East Tennessee.
With numerous medical neglect and wrongful deaths in counties’ jails, the certification of jails in several counties is threatened. The Cocke County Jail lost its certification after it failed to provide medical oversight to inmates despite years of legal warnings. The certification of Scott County Jail is also being threatened at the moment if they will not care for their inmates.
But there is always a collateral damage. Taxpayers lose money when county jails lose certifications. And they equally lose money when federal lawsuits are slammed against counties. Lawsuits and loss of certifications are bad news to negligent political leaders whose lackadaisical attitudes occasioned them in the first instance.
State Government Agencies Lack Powers to Enforce Compliance
The Tennessee USA Today Network conducted an investigation which revealed that counties do not oversee medical conditions in their jails. To make this worse, the Tennessee Corrections Institute lacks inspectors with medical expertise.
To this extent, the inspectors can only examine medical equipment and records and nothing more. The only way the regulatory board can bite is by withdrawing the certification of a jail. But they lack the powers to order a jail closed.
And to underscore the whole trouble, the Tennessee Department of Health disclosed it has not regulatory powers to enforce quality medical care for jail inmates.