Threat of federal lawsuit spurs talks for new jail in Knox Co.

Threat of federal lawsuit spurs talks for new jail in Knox County

Posted:
The Knox County Detention Center had 1,005 inmates for 1,036 beds on Monday. The Knox County Detention Center had 1,005 inmates for 1,036 beds on Monday.
"Eventually we'll end up in lawsuit and wind up where were before and we don't want to do that," said Knox County Chief Deputy Eddie Biggs. "Eventually we'll end up in lawsuit and wind up where were before and we don't want to do that," said Knox County Chief Deputy Eddie Biggs.
"We know 18 to 25 percent of the people who are in detention facilities are mentally ill. They really don't need to be there, but they have nowhere else to go," said Knox County Commissioner Mike Hammond. "We know 18 to 25 percent of the people who are in detention facilities are mentally ill. They really don't need to be there, but they have nowhere else to go," said Knox County Commissioner Mike Hammond.

By MIKE KRAFCIK
6 News Reporter

KNOXVILLE (WATE) - As the Knox County Detention Center edges closer to maximum capacity, threat of a federal lawsuit has spurred new discussion about building a new jail in the county.

The Maloneyville Rd. detention facility currently has 1,005 inmates for 1,036 beds on Monday.

Knox County Sheriff J.J. Jones told county leaders the county must find a way to remedy the problem.

As a result of a 1987 lawsuit, a federal court order was put in place to address overcrowding at the downtown Knox County Jail.

The current population is just 24 inmates away from reaching that cap. If it's reached, a federal court could sue the county.

"The counts that I get daily show me that we're running near capacity almost every day, and we can't continue that. Eventually we'll end up in lawsuit and wind up where were before and we don't want to do that. The citizens in this county don't deserve that," said Knox County Chief Deputy Eddie Biggs.

Biggs said overcrowding at the county detention center is reaching a breaking point. That's why the sheriff's office is urging commissioners to exploring the possibility of a new $1.8 million safety center.

"It deals with the mentally ill, temporarily public intoxication, things of that issue, where we can get some help if we can. Other than being incarcerated, it's a much better way," Biggs said.

The center could be operated by a third party entity like the Helen Ross McNabb Center and used to hold people arrested for minor crimes such as public intoxication or crimes stemming from mental illness.

"We know 18 to 25 percent of the people who are in detention facilities are mentally ill. They really don't need to be there, but they have nowhere else to go," said Knox County Commissioner Mike Hammond.

The closure of Lakeshore Mental Health Institute in June also put more of a burden on the sheriff's office.

"Since Lakeshore has closed, we're doing a lot more of the mental issues. We're having to transport people," said Biggs.

Since 2008, commissioners have looked into building a safety center, but couldn't secure funding.

Now, they hope the state can chip in.

"If they're willing to help with funding for the safety center complex, then I think we need to move on it as quickly as possible," said Hammond.

The Tennessee Department of Mental Health has asked for and is waiting on a proposal for a safety center from the Helen Ross McNabb Center.

Many fear if nothing is done and if there is a lawsuit, the sheriff would need to construct a new pod next to the jail, which could cost as much as $30 million.

Leaders hope a safety center could be used by the county and the city.

A City of Knoxville spokesperson said the city, going back long before the Rogero administration, has had a favorable view of the safety center concept, but said that nothing is currently in the works.

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