The Coffee County Sheriff’s Department has temporarily suspended Tullahoma’s use of a small crew of inmates from the county jail’s workhouse due to a disagreement over a worker’s medical expenses.
Sheriff Steve Graves announced during a recent county Budget and Finance Committee meeting that an inmate from the workhouse had incurred $10,000 in medical expenses while on work detail with Tullahoma Public Works Department, but that Tullahoma had thus far refused to pay for it.
The cities of Tullahoma and Manchester, as well as several county departments and nonprofit organizations, use inmates on work detail as a source of free labor, but must agree to a long list of responsibilities in the process.
According to the department’s “Inmate Work Crew Agreement,” the organization must not only pick up and drop off the inmates at specific times, but also feed them and supervise them closely with no visitors, cell phone use or time alone.
In addition, the organization must agree to be responsible for any escape attempts as well as medical bills for any injury or illness that occurs while the inmate is under their care and custody.
Graves said according to reports, the inmate in question was resting on break and leaning against a tombstone when it fell on his foot. While no bones were broken, Graves said the inmate incurred substantial soft tissue damage that required physical therapy, orthopedic surgeon visits and a medical foot boot.
“Tullahoma is refusing to pay the $10,000 in medical bills, even though it’s clearly stated in the agreement that they have to pay the medical bills for any inmate that gets injured on the job,” Graves said.
“He’s on medical furlough right now,” Graves said. “We’ve suspended inmates from that particular work detail until we can get the situation resolved.”
City of Tullahoma Administrator Jody Baltz said he expects to get the situation resolved as soon as possible and plans to continue the work program, but that the person who had originally signed the sheriff’s work crew agreement in previous years was not actually authorized to do so.
“The problem is that the agreement was never signed by me, nor was it ever approved by the board of mayor and alderman,” Baltz said, “so it really wasn’t legally binding.
“But certainly the sheriff had every reason to believe he had a solid and binding agreement, so we’re working with our attorneys and doing our best to resolve the situation as soon as possible.”
While the small crew of inmates in question will remain on suspension from public works until the situation is resolved, Graves said all other inmates on work detail with the city of Tullahoma are still operating as usual until further notice.