Johnson City, TN

Johnson City Leaders Vote to Approve Closure of City's Detention Center on Request

John M. Dabbs

Closing the doors

In a unanimous vote, the Johnson City Commission voted to close the city detention center during Thursday's Commission meeting. City officials recommended the closure due to decreased census in the detention center and ongoing staffing shortages.

Major Brian Rice presented the recommendation to city commissioners. The facility is described as a minimum security facility operated by the Police Department since the 1970s. The city contracted with the Tennessee Department of Corrections (TDOC) in 1992 to house state inmates. In 2002 the facility was converted to an all-female facility.

Rice says Johnson City and TDOC recently negotiated a contract extension after operations at the facility were being analyzed, in lieu of the typical 5-year contract. Johnson City must give TDOC a 30- day notice of its intent to close the facility if the city decides to close it.

Revenue and expenses

Rice says Johnson City receives $40.45 per person from TDOC for every day they house a state prisoner. The facility has a capacity of 88 people, with a potential to generate over $1 million annually if the facility is operated at capacity.

Rice said the facility's census has been dropping each year for the last four years. The June inmate population was only 35 - less than 50% of its capacity. Average census over the past four fiscal years:

  • 2018-2019 - 83
  • 2019-2020 - 78
  • 2020-2021 - 61
  • 2021-2022 - 48

The facility's finances changed from making money to losing money over the past four years.

Revenue & Expenses by Fiscal Year

  • 2018-2019 Revenue $1,306,535 Expenses $952,930
  • 2019-2020 Revenue $1,180,413 Expenses $951,651
  • 2020-2021 Revenue $965,918 Expenses $937,737
  • 2021-2022 Revenue $810,114 Expenses $846,586

Over the last fiscal year, the city lost $36,471.47, with the numbers changing since the pandemic with staffing issues being a major concern at present.

Staffing shortages

Major Rice said TDOC requires the detention center to have 14 full-time, and 4 part-time staff. At present, the detention center only has 9 full-time and 2 part-time staff. As the staffing levels are mandated, the police department has been pulling patrol officers in to cover staffing as needed. This creates a void in police patrol and affects responses to 9-1-1 calls.

Rice says the detention center, as with all other law enforcement, government, and private sectors, is having a hard time finding employees. The number of applicants has dropped and many positions are open not only within the city but also within the county and state governments.

Rice says the inmates would be transferred to other state facilities within 30 days of receiving notice of closure. He also said the city is committed to a 90-day transition period to help impacted employees find a new position within the city or a job with another county or state agency.

Jobs

As the prisoners at the detention center were providing custodial services for city hall and other areas of the city, there is another shortfall. Johnson City will also need to find another custodial service or additional staffing to provide custodial staff for city facilities.

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An outdoor enthusiast with a passion for travel and adventure. John is a professional consultant and photojournalist.

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