Sheriff Lawson column: Securing the jail

Sheriff Steve Lawson
Posted 9/7/18

Focused On Securing the Jail

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Sheriff Lawson column: Securing the jail

Posted

Hours after taking office on Sept. 1, my administration executed a weapons and contraband sweep of the jail. We were proud to partner with multiple agencies in a show of cooperation. I offer special thanks to the members of the Bradley County Sheriff’s Office Corrections Team and SWAT Team, Cleveland Police Department SWAT Team, Bradley County EMS, Tennessee Highway Patrol, and 10th Judicial District Attorney Steve Crump.

The goal of the sweep was to begin the process of making the jail more secure for corrections officers and inmates alike. When I took office at midnight on Sept. 1, 2018, we were housing 581 inmates in a 408-bed facility. As you can imagine, this presents a number of challenges. The overcrowding issue is one we will address over time, but it will take just that – time. We’ve been over capacity for years, and this will not be resolved overnight. I will work with the District Attorney’s office, as well as our local judges to explore alternative sentencing options that may help ease the overcrowding problem. Continuing to find ways to utilize the Work House will also assist in easing the overcrowding issue.

A number of items were found during the sweep, including razors, a shank, matches, lighters, homemade alcohol (aka "hooch"), and a tattoo gun, just to name a few. I’ve been asked a number of times over the last few days, “How are items like this able to make their way into the jail in the first place?” This is also a question we are seeking to find an answer to, and will be a part of the ongoing investigation of the  collected evidence.

I can tell you that many of the items found are common contraband items in jails across our country. However common they may be, that will not be an excuse for how we handle this issue in the future. I am committed to conducting regular sweeps to ensure these items and others do not find their way back into the inmate population. This is a practice that has not been followed in recent years, and I intend to go in a different direction to get better.

It is important to point out inmates are allowed to keep certain items of personal property. I instructed everyone involved in the sweep to treat our inmates with respect when it came to allowed personal property. We did not seek to destroy or confiscate items that inmates are allowed have with them. Regardless of the reason for their sentence, these prisoners are human beings, and deserve to be treated as such.

As promised in the campaign, I remain focused on tackling the issues we face in the jail. Many of them did not develop overnight, and many are not the responsibility of just one administration. Never the less, the buck stops with me now, and I am up to the challenge of making the jail a safe and orderly part of our local criminal justice system.

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