Inmates return to the Unicoi County Jail


ERWIN, TN (WJHL) – The Unicoi Co. Jail is back open for business after the main sewer line in the downtown Erwin building burst on Sept. 19 and forced the evacuation of the 62 male inmates that were housed in the jail.

After three weeks, all the repairs have been completed and even some much needed improvements and repairs have been made.

“When it burst, it did flood the duct work that carries the heat and air conditioning into the jail, of course, jails don’t have windows so it is very important that we have air circulating at all times in a jail,” Unicoi Co. Sheriff Mike Hensley said. “It gave us the opportunity to make some repairs that we couldn’t have done as long as the inmates were here, so while they weren’t here, we were able to make some repairs that needed to be done. Some welding had to be done as well as some sealing and fortunately, I can’t say 100%, I’m pretty sure that we’ve solved the problem about the flooding of the downstairs, that was an ongoing problem for years here.”

There was one crucial addition to the jail equipment that had never been included before, a grease trap in the kitchen. While preparing three meals a day for the inmates over the nearly 50 years that the jails had been there, the build-up of grease was a contributing factor to the sewer line bursting. But the addition of the new grease trap will eliminate that problem in the future.

Sheriff Hensley was very quick to thank Carter Co. Sheriff Lunceford, Greene Co. Sheriff Hankins and Washington Co. Sheriff Graybeal for all their help in this emergency.

“This is something you don’t see happen. When you have to evacuate a whole jail with this many inmates and most of the jails are full.”, Hensley said, “Fortunately, we had the Carter Co. Jail, the Washington Co. Jail as well as the Greene Co. Jail to house some of the inmates, and some of these were state inmates. That gives us a better time line about getting the state inmates back for revenue purposes. Some of the inmates that were the state had to go back to the penitentiary because there was not a place to house these people locally so we’ll eventually get those people back but it will take some time.”

There is no estimate yet for the cost of the repairs to the jail’s duct work and sewer pipes, but Sheriff Hensley says much of it should be covered by insurance. The inmates began returning to the jail Monday night and all of the ones housed locally were back in the jail by noon on Tuesday.

Sheriff Hensley says they are glad to be back, “Absolutely, I talked with them this morning and they were glad to be back in Unicoi County.”

Copyright 2016 WJHL. All rights reserved.

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