Justice center under construction

Rhea County Sheriff Mike Neal tours the new justice center that is currently under construction.

The Rhea County Sheriff’s Department expects it will cost the county nearly $1 million this year to house inmates in other counties as work progresses on the new justice center.

Rhea County is currently housing inmates in other counties after the state required the county to limit the jail population to 88 inmates due to chronic overcrowding issues.

Rhea County Sheriff Mike Neal said on Monday that the county is on track to spend nearly $1 million this year since the county must pay whatever county is housing Rhea inmates. He estimates that it costs nearly $30 per day for each inmate, and he said that cost does not include the cost of medical care or transportation costs for the sheriff’s department.

According to Neal, the county spent $919,000 in 2018 on housing inmates in other counties, and in 2019, that total rose slightly to $928,000.

“We’re on track to spend about the same or a little more in 2020,” Neal said.

Neal said that the amount of money being paid to Bledsoe County recently helped allow the Bledsoe County Jail to undergo an expansion.

“By the time our justice center is complete, we’ll have effectively paid for the Bledsoe County expansion,” Neal said. “That’s why we need the justice center complete as soon as we can. We’ll end up spending about $3 million or $4 million on housing inmates in other counties by the time this project is over with.”

The new justice center is currently under construction, and will be located at the corner of Rhea County Highway and Walnut Grove Church Road and will be able to house 275 inmates as well as county courtrooms.