Cocke County leaders address courthouse security and jail issues

NEWPORT, Tenn. (WVLT) -- Security at the Cocke County Courthouse and Detention Center is an ongoing issue for the sheriff's department.

The jail lost its certification through the Tennessee Correctional Institute and since then, it's placed the county in a vulnerable position. Local 8 News Reporter Sarah Jane Anderson talked to leaders about the likelihood of getting that certification back.

Cocke County Chief Deputy Derrick Woods pointed out rotting ceilings, leaks and holes in the floor of the county jail. He considered them to be small, day-to-day operational issues for the department.

"We're out of room, we're out of creativity, the only thing we're not out of is having enough personnel to do what we do here everyday," said Chief Deputy Woods.

After an inmate escaped last week, Sheriff Armando Fontes blamed the overcrowded and understaffed jail.

"That's one of the reasons why our jail was de-certified," said the sheriff. "Because of the fact of overcrowdedness, the facilities were both, in the words of TCI, 'antiquated and out of date.'"

The inmate is back behind bars, but the department's issues are not locked away. Chief Deputy Woods said the problems start as soon as booking.

"They come here and their process finger printed. They're in full access of our control room so our guards," he said as he opened up to the rest of the room. "Our personnel is obviously at jeopardy every time we have an inmate in here moving around and there have been confrontations with inmates resisting arrest."

The jail is split between the third floor of the courthouse and the annex across the street. When inmates need to cross the street to go to court, they're put in cuffs and chains, then transported by deputies.

Chief Deputy Woods said neither facility has the chance of re-certification because of the structural issues at hand. Clay Blazer, chairman of the county commission, said there's no easy fix.

"We have some schools that are dilapidated, so we've got issues with them. We've got infrastructures that are dilapidated and we're having issues with them, so we're looking at $100,000,000 to $150,000,000 in improvements that need to be made. Although this is definitely an issue that we take seriously, and it's an issue, it's one in a series of issues," said Blazer.

He said there's simply not enough funds for a new jail, but they are looking for more creative ways to enhance security with the resources they do have.