Overcrowding a long-term issue at the Union County jail

The jail has been at or over capacity since the start of the year.
Overcrowding in Union County jail
Published: Sep. 18, 2023 at 5:41 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 18, 2023 at 6:33 PM EDT
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - Five women inmates were taken back into custody after they briefly escaped from the jail Sunday night. The Union County Sheriff’s Office said they were able to escape because a door to the outside was not locked and the jail was overcrowded.

“It is just really bad in there,” Rhiannon Clark said.

Clark was arrested back in May and had to spend 12 hours in the Union County jail. According to state data, Union County jail was at 130% capacity that month. Clark said she knew the inmates were given poor conditions once she walked inside.

“There are a lot of people without mattresses, sheets and stuff like that,” Clark said. “In the hallway, there are just people on both sides in the first place. You’re not supposed to be in the hallway in the first place.”

Clark said she was surrounded by people on the women’s side of the jail. According to data from the state, the Union County jail has been at or over capacity since the beginning of the year.

This January, the jail was at 118% capacity. The most recent data from July shows the jail was at 124% capacity.

“I don’t really know what they can do about it, but there needs to be some space somewhere,” Clark said.

The women’s side of the jail is a lot worse than the overall numbers. In January, the state reported the Union County jail was at 541% capacity on the women’s side. In June, it was at 225% capacity. The state reported the women’s side of the jail at 208% capacity.

The Union County Sheriff’s Office did not get back to us regarding the overcrowding concerns. The Tennessee Department of Correction told us those numbers are solely on the county jails and they only work with a fraction of inmates in county jails.