Overcrowded Sullivan County Jail needs a quick solution; County Commissioners have a plan in place

SULLIVAN COUNTY, Tenn. (WJHL) - Leaders in the region's largest county jail are trying to figure out how to solve an existing problem. The overcrowded Sullivan County Jail is housing 914 inmates.

The jail was built to hold 620 inmates.

"When we send these officers into the cells to headcount they are outnumbered," said Chief Jail Administrator Lee Carswell.

The Sullivan County Jail over the past five years has averaged a daily population at 125% of its total bed space capacity.

Carswell says the Sullivan County Jail almost has as many inmates as the Knox County Jail, despite the that it is far smaller building in a much smaller county.

"Because of the classifications that we have had as many as 40 inmates in a 16-bed bay," Carswell said.

There are inmates sleeping on cots on the floor because there are not enough beds.

Carswell says he's worried overcrowding could lead to legal issues for the county.

"We could be in a lot of trouble," he said. "There's a lot of liability. The jail is the highest liability for any county and its something that has to be dealt with whether we want to or not."

Thursday night, the county commissioners didn't spend much time debating the options to renovate the current jail, expand it, or build a new jail facility altogether, instead, they laid the groundwork to hire a project manager and announced an architect already is on board.

The county selected the firm of Michael Bradly Inc. to assess the needs of the jail and come up with a plan.

"The jail project the money is appropriated out of the general fund balance," said Hunter Locke, Sullivan County Commissioner. That's going to be an architect firm out of Knoxville to tell us what our best needs are to be."

There is no timeline for this plan.

The Sullivan County Commission will vote to hire a project manager at a meeting next week.


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