Coffee County Sheriff Chad Partin has asked county officials to consider building a workhouse next to the main jail.
Currently the workhouse, also referred to as the annex, is located near the Coffee County Justice Center in Manchester, about 4 miles from the jail.
Until recently, the annex had been used to house inmates participating in a work program, with each day of work shaving two days off their sentences. Participants work for Coffee County and Manchester City departments.
Partin closed the workhouse soon after he took office Sept. 1.
The capacity of the main jail is 400, and the annex can house up to 36 inmates. The reduced jail population – from more than 400 to about 320 – has allowed closure of the annex.
The idea of building a new workhouse adjacent to the main facility was brought up during a Feb. 7 Coffee County Capital Outlay Committee meeting.
Though Partin said he would like to have an annex next to the jail, he made it clear his first priority as a leader of the County Coffee Sheriff’s Department is providing pay raises for the corrections officers.
Constructing a workhouse near the main facility would result in long-term savings for the sheriff’s department, according to Partin.
If the annex remains where it is, it would require 13 corrections officers assigned there in order to operate the facility, due to the distance between the annex and the Coffee County Jail. However, if a new annex is constructed adjacent to the jail, guards at the main facility would monitor both the jail and the workhouse.
‘Food for thought’
“This will mainly be food for thought,” Partin said. “Of course, pay for corrections is my number-one issue.”
Partin brought up the issue so county officials could start considering it and be prepared for matters that may impact the budget in the future.
“We have closed the annex, the lights are off; but we can go right back tomorrow with inmates, if we have to,” Partin said.
Ideally, the jail population would remain low, and reopening the annex would not be necessary, added Partin.
“In the future, when funds are available, we need to look at doing the workhouse at the main jail complex,” Partin said. “Those workhouses are a bare minimum security, they don’t require security like a jail does.”
The structure would be “just a metal building on a concrete slab,” said Partin.
There will be only one room with beds and a section used for storage. The main costs associated with the project would be for engineering and architectural work. The construction process should be simple, according to the sheriff.
“We already have the beds, we’ve got the lavatories and the commodes,” he said. “The sewer and everything is already there. We already have a jail door that was designed for this.”
The beds at the current workhouse can be used, if a new structure is built.
“The current workhouse is roughly 50 feet by 70 feet – that’s in the interior – with 36 beds,” Partin said.
“Nobody can figure out why they didn’t build a workhouse there to begin with, when we were building the jail,” Partin said.
The new jail was completed in 2015.
If the population grows, and the workhouse starts operating again at its current location, that would come at a cost of $500,000 a year for the county.
If a new workhouse is built next to the main facility, those funds would be saved, according to Partin.
“I am still 17 corrections officers down,” Partin said. “I don’t know if we will ever been fully staffed. I just wanted you to keep that in your minds, think about it going forward.”
This issue is not urgent, he added.
“We are fine, the inmates are working in and out of the main jail,” he said.
However, according to Partin, there is a contraband problem.
“I just want you to think about the future,” Partin said.
In 2016, the Tennessee Corrections Institute recommended the construction of a new jail annex adjacent to the main facility for housing trusties to replace the one currently located adjacent to the justice center. However, county officials voted to remodel the old annex instead.
The county spent about $90,000 to renovate the existing annex last year. The annex was built in 2001 and was designed to house males only.
Elena Cawley may reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.