April 27, 2023
It appears that inspectors have finally had enough of the conditions at the jail and closed the female side for multiple violations. All female prisoners should be removed and placed in other jails in the surrounding counties by Friday.
As I reported last month the conditions in the women’s side of the jail was inhumane and the rest of the facility was not a lot better. The age of the jail is such that parts are difficult to find for repairs for some items or the people making them are now out of business.
Sheriff Aaron Ellenburg inherited this sinking ship several months ago when he was sworn into office after being elected. It is almost impossible to raise a ship once it’s 98% under water but he is trying. Former Sheriff Chris Francis and the Commissioners apparently had let the jail sink to an unmanageable state before he ever took office.
This closure will cost the county quite a bit of money as we, (Rutherford County taxpayers) have to pay other facilities to house our female prisoners. This however is cheaper than what lawsuits would cost for violations of inmates constitutional rights or the death of an inmate from conditions at the jail. I myself became very ill after just touring the facility.
One of the issues at hand is also the fact that DA Ted Bell’s office has a tremendous backlog of cases. The right to a speedy trial does not seem to be applicable here. A lot of these cases are people jailed awaiting acceptance of a plea deal so that no actual trials have to take place. This makes the DA’s office look more successful in “winning” cases but backs up available jail space. According to public records one particular prisoner has been in the jail over 1800 days awaiting trial which looks like it has cost the county around $90k.
This is inexcusable. Sheriff Ellenburg says he wants to “do the right thing” in his position but doing the right thing costs money and the county does not seem to want to put money into the jail. The Sheriff was even seen mowing the grass at the jail himself this past week.
Sheriff Ellenburg has said publicly that he will not accept the issues of drugs being smuggled into the jail. Trustees leaving the facility to go outside is definitely a safety risk and viable avenue for drugs to be brought in, so not allowing them outside to cut grass makes sense. Also they use trustees to clean the offices at the jail, which allows them accessibility to anything (drugs or contraband) that might be left in an area by someone from outside.
The County needs to stop the practice of using prisoners for free labor. Having the freedom to go outside and into the offices after hours to clean the building is a severe safety risk. The phrase “we’ve always done it this way” is not going to fly anymore. We have employees and contractors that do this work for the county’s other departments so why not the jail?
Yes, the closure of the jail will cost the county money but it is the right thing to do until the county can get it fixed and up to code. If not then they need to explore the option of building a new one. I reached out to Sheriff Ellenburg for a statement about the closure and he said “We are looking at a new beginning for the Rutherford County Detention Center.” This definitely seems like a positive step in getting the jail fixed.
This is the United States of America and Rutherford County should not allow third world conditions for prisoners to exist here. This is an issue apparently caused by former Sheriff Chris Francis, the Commissioners, and current DA Ted Bell. Francis is gone but DA Bell can get his office in gear and get some of these people out of there. The Commissioners can also do what needs to be done to fix it or if not fixable build a new one.
The Commissioners need to stand beside Sheriff Ellenburg and “do the right thing” in fixing this problem instead of being forced to by inspectors. It affects all of us. We as a community are better than this. It is a time for new beginning. This verse in KJV bible seems to say it best. Matthew 25:40 – “And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”