UPDATE: Hamilton Co. commission passes resolution to reduce numb - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

UPDATE: Hamilton Co. commission passes resolution to reduce number of mentally ill inmates

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HAMILTON COUNTY, TN (WRCB) -

UPDATE: The Hamilton County Commission approved a resolution Wednesday that would support an initiative to reduce the number of people with mental health illness in the county jail.

The Hamilton County Sheriff's Office says as many as 40 percent of inmates at the Hamilton County jail and Silverdale are mentally ill or have problems with substance abuse. To house those inmates, it costs taxpayers each night they stay at their facilities.

Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond tells Channel 3 that the jail is not the place to house those with substance abuse problems and mental health issues. 

BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee and CHI Memorial will contribute $25,000 each to assist the county in reducing the number of inmates that deal the mental health or substance abuse challenges.

The sheriff’s office and the county mayor will partner with the Corporation for Supportive Housing to determine which organization they could partner with.


PREVIOUS STORY: Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond says the jail is not the place to house those with substance abuse problems and mental health issues. 

He hopes to create a program with the help of BlueCross BlueShield and CHI Memorial to offer the support he says they need. 

It's part of a conversation increasing across the country. 

Officials say in Hamilton County, as many as 40 percent of inmates at the Hamilton County Jail and Silverdale are mentally ill or have problems with substance abuse. 

"We have criminalized people who are mentally ill, have substance abuse issues and are homeless and that has got to stop," G. A. Bennett said. 

Bennett serves as director of support services with the sheriff's office. 

He and a team have spent a year looking into getting people in jail the help they need. 

"We're talking about a lot of people locked up with mental issues that are getting no help and very seriously becoming worse," he said. 

Bennett's team believes supportive housing and treatment services coupled with the county's already formed Crisis Intervention Team and Mental Health Court is the answer. 

It's too early in the process to know how much the change would cost but other communities that have already made the change have said it's saved money in the long run.

"Whatever the cost of this program, the cost that will be saved, the expenses that will be saved, the taxpayer monies that will be saved, will be much much greater," Bennett said. 

Bennett said they will bring in a technical adviser next month to look at how the move forward with the plan. 

The sheriff has asked commissioners for $25,000 to help get the plan started. 

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