KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — After securing approval and funding to create a court for adults with mental health illnesses in Knox County, a board meeting planned for later this week will help begin to put the idea into practice.

The Knox County Mental Health Court Advisory Board will meet for the first time this Thursday, August 17, to begin the process of establishing an operations timeline for the court.

It is designed to provide individualized treatment for adult defendants who have serious and persistent mental illnesses as an alternative to incarceration. The goals of the court are to improve the quality of life for participants, public safety, and public health as well as reduce incarceration, recidivism and corrections costs.

Mental health courts were first established in the United States in the 1990s. There are around 300 courts in operation across the country today. Knox County’s court would be the eighth of its kind in Tennessee.

“Mental health is a strong contributor to the cycle of incarceration in Knox County, and across the country,” said Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs. “I’m glad we are working to become one of the state’s early adopters of helping and/or treating the individual rather than perpetuating that cycle, which is expensive, ineffective, and doesn’t address the underlying problem.”

The advisory board includes Criminal Court Clerk Mike Hammond, Attorney General Charme Allen, Criminal Court Judge Steven Sword, Criminal Sessions Judge Chuck Cerny, Public Defender Eric Lutton, and local attorney Jonathan Cooper.

“Mental illness, like physical illnesses, can affect anyone regardless of education, income, or zip code,” said Hammond, who also chairs the six-member committee. “If someone comes to court with a broken arm, we do what we can to get them bandaged up. The same should be true if they’re in need of treatment for a mental health issue. Research shows that showing this kind of care and compassion is more likely to keep people out of the justice system.”

It’s not yet clear when the court could begin operation. The group plans to meet again Thursday, Nov. 16.