BLOUNTVILLE, Tenn. (WJHL) – Members of the Sullivan County Commission and Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office stood huddled under two tents behind the jail on Monday afternoon.

“And regardless of the weather, it is a great day for Sullivan County,” Mayor Richard Venable said.

Despite the rain, 13 individuals ceremoniously shoveled the first piles of dirt to mark the beginning of a $96 million jail expansion project in Sullivan County.

“Every now and then you have to handle a generational project like a school or jail and fortunately, our county commission stepped up to the plate and said yes it’s time, we need to do this,” Venable said.

The present jail in Blountville is more than 30 years old and Sheriff Jeff Cassidy knows it is time for an upgrade.

“Right now our jail has a lot of low ceilings, a lot of blind spots, it’s overcrowded and understaffed,” Cassidy said. “You know, it’s just a poorly designed building.”

The planned expansion will provide a modern upgrade, and perhaps most importantly, an increase in beds. The new building is expected to hold an additional 560 inmates.

Renderings for planned Sullivan County Jail expansion. (Courtesy: Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office)

That increased capacity is crucial, as there are currently 929 inmates being housed at the Sullivan County Jail despite the designed capacity being only 619.

“We have enough beds that we won’t be coming back here, probably it will take 30 or 40 years,” Venable said.

“It’s a real good morale booster,” Cassidy said. “These officers work tremendously, they work a lot of overtime, they work a lot of hours.”

Cassidy ensured the upgraded facility will allow corrections officers to separate the most violent criminals from the rest of the prison population. It will also provide the space for less violent offenders to engage in rehabilitative programs.

“We have it to some extent, but I want it to a larger extent, to get these people jobs, life skills, get them employment, get them money in the bank,” Cassidy said. “Get them back to their families, raise their kids and raise their families.”

Venable explained that American Recovery Plan funds will help to ease the cost to taxpayers.

“The next generation will help pay for this jail,” Venable said. “It’s not on the shoulders of those property taxpayers now. That’s the best thing about county government is you can spread your cost over generations, and that’s what we’ve done with this jail.”

“You can’t really put a price tag on public safety,” Cassidy added. “These offenders that are out here to prey on victims and commit these crimes, they need to be locked up.”

The expansion project is projected to take somewhere from 1,045 to 1,060 days, which will be early in 2025.

“I’ve hesitated to say how many days or what date it is because now I can start counting,” Venable smiled.