Tenn. jail gets high marks from auditors despite low CO pay

Of 60 mandatory and 298 nonmandatory standards, the Detention Facility was perfect in all by one area — pay for correctional officers

By Don Jacobs
Knoxville News-Sentinel

KNOX COUNTY, Tenn. — Like expectant schoolchildren awaiting their score on a major test, more than 100 Knox County Sheriff's Office correctional officers and administrators crowded into a room Wednesday to hear the evaluation of their jail by a national organization. They didn't need to be concerned.

The three auditors with the American Correctional Association bestowed a nearly perfect grade of 99.6 percent on the Knox County Detention Facility. Of 60 mandatory and 298 nonmandatory standards, the Detention Facility was perfect in all by one area — pay for correctional officers.

"As far as I'm concerned, it's 100 percent compliance because you achieved all the things that were within your control," ACA Auditor Katherine Brown, of Florida, told the gathering. "It's obvious you walk the walk and talk the talk."

Brown even liked the food served to inmates.

"For an inmate meal, they were not bad at all," she said.

Auditor Harvey Fields of Jenks, Okla., said the ACA expects correctional officers to receive the same pay as a patrol officer. Fields said correctional officers and patrol officers both require the same intelligence, integrity, courage and compassion, so the ACA expects the same pay for each group.

In Knox County, however, pay grades for correctional officers not certified by the state Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission are set lower than certified patrol officers and detectives.

ACA Auditor Allan R. Westmoreland of Palestine, Texas, praised the Detention Facility's scanning system for medical rounds that shows each inmate gets the appropriate medications.

"I would have to tell you, if I were to have a family member incarcerated, I would hope it would be in this facility," Westmoreland said. "You do a great job, and you wear the uniform well."

The Detention Facility on Maloneyville Road was built in 1994 and first accredited by the ACA in 1995. That accreditation must be renewed every three years. The auditors' score three years ago was 97.3 percent.

The three auditors will present their findings to the ACA accreditation committee at its August meeting in Kissimmee, Fla., for the official determination of accreditation. Accreditation means the agency is following the best known practices for housing inmates and helps protect Knox County in the event of a lawsuit.

Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Martha Dooley said about 400 people work in the facility, where a daily average of 841 inmates are housed.

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