A new state prison in nearby Bledsoe County will likely only put a dent in the backlog of local inmates who should already be serving their time in a state penitentiary, not Warren County Jail.
“It would be a real blessing if they could take some inmates off our hands,” said Sheriff Jackie Matheny of the new state prison in Bledsoe County which is slated to open soon. “We don’t have a huge amount of staff here so anytime we have a high population it’s tough on both the staff and the inmates, meaning more incidents, more fights and things of that nature.”
The Bledsoe County Correctional Complex near Pikeville will have a capacity of 1,540 inmates. However, all of those beds are already claimed as it is estimated there are 5,000 inmates being housed in county jails who should be behind bars at a state penitentiary.
At Warren County Jail, Sheriff Matheny reports there are 94 inmates who should be in a state penitentiary. Those are felony cases and the inmates are considered state inmates. The number represents about one-third of the jail’s regular population, which this week sat at 280 inmates.
“When it’s down around 240 or so we can handle it a lot better,” Matheny said. “But when we get up around 280 as we are now, or even up over 300, that’s when it gets very hard.”
Matheny said he hopes the new prison will be able to take at least a few local inmates to help the jail, which is operating near capacity.
“The state hasn’t taken inmates in a year,” Matheny said. “Any amount they could take would be great.”
It is estimated half the state’s 109 local jails have more inmates than beds. Warren County was one of those facilities prior to building a new jail eight years ago.
Along with stretching resources, the refusal by the state to accept state inmates places a liability on local jails. In Warren County, the jail is not certified due to the lack of manpower the state says the county needs to oversee prisoners. The benefit of certification is it can be used to fight lawsuits filed by inmates, plus it can help with lower insurance costs.