Sheriff Cassidy pushes for pre-trial release as short-term fix for overcrowded jail

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BLOUNTVILLE, Tenn. (WJHL) — The Sullivan County Commission had a full afternoon and evening discussing short and long term plans about what to do with the increasing population at the Sullivan County Jail.

After months of observation, working with public defenders and judges- Sheriff Jeff Cassidy presented a “pre-trial release” plan to the commission in a special called session.

“It’s a pre-trial release. I’ve got about 91 inmates that meet the criteria for this pretrial release right here but with that, we have to have officers in the community supervising them,” said Cassidy.

This plan would allow for those who are booked with misdemeanors and felonies on cases- like drug charges that don’t have holds in other jurisdictions to not be booked in the jail before their trial.

Sheriff Cassidy and Chief Jail Administrator Lee Carswell observed this on a trip to Knox County where there are 1,000 inmates in this program.

But that plan has a BIG upfront price tag of $511,000 to train, hire and outfit five officers.

Commissioner Vance voiced his disapproval for this reason. “I don’t like this proposal, I’ll be honest with you, I don’t think that’s a bang for our buck for 91 people,” said Vance.

Cassidy rebutted-“Well this is 6 years of neglect.”

The Sullivan County jail has about 960 inmates with beds for only 619 people. Just this week- the sheriff moved 43 inmates to other counties. He said he reached out to each county in the state, but only four responded saying they could accept inmates.

It’s an issue that has consumed Cassidy’s short time in office.

“We’ve been working ever since I’ve taken office pretty much to try and get inmates out…but once we get inmates out, 20 or 30 come back in,” said Cassidy.

MBI services also presented on Thursday evening. They brought six different plans with options to build on to the current facility or just outright build a new one. The biggest factor will be the cost.

“On jails its operations and staff because long-term the big cost is the staff. Also at this location here, we’ve got to worry about parking because they are parked out at the existing site,” said Jay Henderlight, one of the architects working on the designs.

Sullivan County Mayor Richard Venable says decisions on this are about so much more than the price tag.

“We are not just going to build a warehouse for prisoners, we’re going to develop a system here in Sullivan county where we can transition people were under foul of the law back into society,” said Venable.

Thursday’s special called session did not result in a vote. A resolution for a short term solution can be on the table at the next county commission meeting later this month.

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