KNOXVILLE (WATE) - Knox County officials were able to give a federal judge good news Thursday regarding jail overcrowding.
The court requires them to provide a progress report on overcrowding at the downtown Knox County Jail.
The county has been under a mandate to manage its jail population going back to a lawsuit in 1987.
This year, Knox County received an award for its population reduction program.
On Thursday, Mayor Mike Ragsdale, Sheriff J.J. Jones and Mayor-elect Tim Burchett were in federal court to explain the progress to the judge.
Overcrowding is no longer a problem at the downtown facility. The maximum number of inmates allowed is 215 and on Thursday, they had 150.
"We've moved some inmates around. We built another pod for maximum security prisoners out at the detention facility since then. We have done some double bunking that added about 300 beds," Sheriff Jones said.
Under the court order, Knox County would be fined $5,000 per inmate per day if it exceeded capacity.
One reason for the improvement is how they deal with non-violent criminals.
"We have worked very hard using the ankle bracelet program, with having better work release programs, inmates out doing work instead of sitting in cells watching television or something like that. And that is a tribute to our attorney general, sheriff, and judges," said Mayor Mike Ragsdale.
The next step, and one the federal judge supports, is building a safety center to treat the mentally ill instead of taking them directly to jail.
Mayor-elect Burchett likes the concept.
"Some folks with mental illness, they are born with it or it develops over time, and we have to address that. It is not being liberal on crime. It is far from that. It is so we can address violent criminals in an appropriate manner and separate these people from that group I think," Burchett said.
Funding will be an issue for the safety center plan, but officials say not complying with federal court would be an even bigger issue.