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State funding "game changer" in Knox Safety Center discussions

6:46 PM, Dec 10, 2012   |    comments
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After nearly a decade of discussion, Knox Sheriff Jimmy "JJ" Jones says the promise of state funding may finally be enough to get city and county officials to build a new safety center.

Last month, Jones told commissioners they needed to deal with jail overcrowding, or face potential lawsuits.

The center would keep people with drug dependencies or mental illnesses from going to jail, in favor of getting treatment.

"It's not fair to the people who have dual dependency, drugs and alcohol or mentally ill to be incarcerated where police officers have no training to deal with those types of people," says Jones.

He says people could be evaluated for a three day period and then referred for treatment or medication.

The building would cost an estimated $1.8 million to build, according to Jones. That money would need to come from the city and county, but he says he's been in talks with the state to provide operating costs for at least three years.

Commissioners Mike Brown, Jeff Ownby, and R. Larry Smith all spoke in favor of the proposal.

Commissioner Richard Briggs called the potential for state funding a "game changer" in a nearly decade long debate.

They are all aware that the safety center will not save them from having to build a new jail pod in the next five to ten years.

But it would delay that expense and at the same time prevent costs associated with treating the repeat offenders that wind up in jail due to mental issues or drugs.

Commission intends to hold a joint discussion session with the City of Knoxville in February.

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