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by Sharon Rondeau

Sheriff Bill Bivens has oversight over the Monroe County jail

(Feb. 21, 2012) — A local news report released on February 9 and updated on February 10, 2012 states that a “new jail” for Monroe County, TN is “a possibility.”  The print and video versions of the article appear to be identical and state that “officials are looking into building a new one [jail].”  It does not say why.

The Post & Email has recently learned that an official annual inspection of the Monroe County jail has not been conducted for 2012.  The “inspection” which was reported on February 7, 2012 as well as February 20 was actually a scheduled “technical assistance inquiry” involving Mr. Miller Meadows and another inspector from the Tennessee Corrections Institute (TCI) and Monroe County officials, including Madisonville Mayor Tim Yates and Sheriff Bill Bivens.  We have been told that such a “technical assistance inquiry” can “range from a question to a policy issue.”  Annual inspections to determine recertification are not announced in advance.

The TCI was authorized by state law in 1982 to establish minimum standards for detention facilities throughout Tennessee.  Several amendments to state code pertaining to the TCI were made through 2004.  Rule 6 of the Tennessee Rules of Criminal Procedure states that inquiring into the conditions of the local jail is the responsibility of the county grand jury.

In 2003, then-Comptroller of the Treasury John Morgan reported that “Many Tennessee jails are overcrowded” and that “Tennessee statutes address only state prison overcrowding, but offer no contingencies for overcrowded local jails.”  In August 2007, the Polk County jail was shut down by order of the Tennessee Fire Marshal.

The Post & Email has been told that if a Tennessee jail fails to meet minimum standards as set forth by the TCI, it is reinspected within a certain time period, during which the Board of Control continues the facility’s certification as long as benchmarks for improvements are being met as evidenced by required monthly reports.  If a detention facility fails to meet the benchmarks within the specified time frame, usually 60 days, it can lose its certification and be placed under a “Plan of Action.”

Several months ago, the TCI launched a new program, the County Corrections Partnership, to assist jails in meeting minimum standards and improving general conditions.  We are told that “it takes a commitment” when a county decides to join the CCP, and that the new initiative “brings together the county mayor, the sheriff, the fire marshal, and the University of Tennessee to address deficiencies.”

To date, it is reported that eight Tennessee counties have joined the CCP and two are pending.  One of our sources described the program as “becoming a blossoming flower across the state.”

The present Monroe County jail in Madisonville has been called “a dungeon” by some who have been inmates there.  Rainwater coming in, lack of necessary medication, peeling paint, 55-degree temperature, and “sleeping on a concrete floor” have been reported on numerous occasions.  The conditions are noted as unconstitutional and federal violations in the Habeas Corpus Writ filed in the U.S. District Court in Knoxville, TN on behalf of Walter Francis Fitzpatrick, III.  What might a federal judge say after ordering an inspection?

The Post & Email can now confirm that the Monroe County jail has been under a “Plan of Action” since 2011.  Who would have known?  Did the local newspapers report it?  Were they aware of it?  How much input, if any, did the Monroe County grand jury have into exposing the conditions?  Did they care?

How and when will the taxpayers be informed of the cost to build a new facility?  Will a new “Justice Center” serve the people or line the pockets of those running the county?

Our source told us that the Plan of Action for Monroe County put into effect last year is “good until the next inspection, when refiling [of it] would be required.” We were told that after a jail has been placed under a Plan of Action, “there has to be measurable progress.”  Questions such as “Have you hired an architect?” and “Is financing available?” are asked of those in charge of the facility.   Regarding financing, “That’s a big one,” our source said.  “If they haven’t done anything, that’s going to be an issue.”

In regard to the Monroe County jail, the source stated, “For that place…the only solution is going to be a new jail.”

“Any time you need anything, just give me a call,” our source said.

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  1. Monroe County has an interesting situation.
    They are under suit, no doubt, from different sources. Most municipal entities sign a disclaimer on their liability insurance whereby the policy is void if they settle more than “X” number of suits. It was reported recently that Tellico Plains was litigating their third and final suit in their current insurance period. If they lose the suit and get another, they will also lose their insurance. It would not be out of the question to assume that Monroe County is in the same situation.
    The Monroe County infrastructure is also in disrepair. Many of the county roads do not meet specs and they either do not have the equipment or if so, do not have the manpower to man their snow removal. It is actually dangerous to drive there after a winter storm.
    Now, if the jail is condemned, which is likely, where does the replacement money come from? And where do the prisoners go until a new gulag is built? Do they go to neighboring counties to add to their overcrowding?
    And there are pending federal suits, as well, and how do they satisfy any judgements that result from those?
    These are all baffling questions, most of which lead to the governors office. Why does the governor not make any effort to correct the issues that are driving the litigation and general corruption in Monroe County? It has been demonstrated to his office that the judicial system has failed to act. And he has been shown, by the example set in Clay County, KY, that a governor’s special task force can correct the conditions in Monroe County. If the efforts on the federal level bears fruit, wouldn’t the governor’s office be named as complicit in the Monroe County corruption if they didn’t lift a hand to correct it?