JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — Johnson City’s jail will close within weeks after Johnson City commissioners approved a recommendation to shutter the half-century old facility that houses a declining number of female state inmates.
“It does not serve a purpose for us to be in this space, especially when local taxpayers are no longer in a net gain position,” Mayor Joe Wise said after a presentation from Johnson City Police Department (JCPD) Major Brian Rice.
The 9,725-square-foot jail housed far fewer prisoners in the recently ended fiscal year than it had several years before and expenses were about $36,000 higher than revenues. Three years earlier the jail revenues provided a net gain of more than $350,000.
The Tennessee Department of Corrections (TDOC) pays $40.75 per day to house inmates. Rice showed commissioners data revealing an average of 83 inmates per day in the 2019 fiscal year and just 48 in the most recent year that ended June 30. The current census is 35.
The contract will end in 30 days, while the city is going to allow 90 days for the nine full-time and two part-time corrections staff to transition to other jobs within the city.
“I’m very very proud of our entire detention staff, of what they’ve gone through since COVID came to town,” Rice said. “It definitely impacts them but it is not a reflection of them.”
Johnson City’s police department (JCPD) is recommending a move that would lead to the closure of the city jail, which houses female inmates through a contract with the Tennessee Department of Corrections (TDOC).
City commissioners heard a presentation from police before their Thursday night meeting outlining reasons for the recommendation. They’re being asked to approve terminating the contract with TDOC, which could transition all prisoners out (Thursday’s census was 35) within 30 days.
Built in the 1970s, the jail began housing only female state inmates in 2002. While inmate numbers have declined the past several years, costs have moved little as TDOC requires a specific staffing level regardless of inmate count in the jail, which can hold a maximum of 88 inmates.
In the fiscal year that ended June 30, the jail averaged a census of just 48 inmates, down from 61 in fiscal 2021, 78 in 2020 and 83 in fiscal 2019. Numbers aren’t final but preliminary figures show the jail was in the red for the first time last year, losing about $36,000 on revenues of $810,000.
Just three years earlier the operation had netted more than $350,000 on revenues of more than $1.3 million.
Staffing is another issue. Regardless of census the state requires 14 full-time and four part-time state-certified corrections staff. The JCPD has nine full-time and two part-time staff assigned to the jail and is having to close the gap by using patrol officers.
JCPD began evaluating the situation in March. With the state paying $40.75 per day per inmate, breaking even isn’t possible without higher census. Numbers have declined due in part to sentencing legislation, which has placed some focus on treatment over incarceration, and due to Johnson City’s jail being able to only house non-violent offenders and not having on-site medical capabilities.
JCPD negotiated a shorter contract term in June, allowing for the 30-day out. The department is recommending working with existing staff to find other job opportunities within the city, and allowing for a 90-day transition period.
The inmates provide some custodial services at city hall, so the report notes a need to determine solutions for that. The department hopes to use the 9,725-square-foot facility to address space needs.
Thursday evening, the City Commission approved a measure to end the city’s contract with the TDOC regarding the housing the state inmates at the jail.