County Commission Votes To Match $120,000 Raised Privately For Program Aimed At Removing Those With Mental Health Issues From The Jail

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

The County Commission on Wednesday voted to match the $120,000 raised privately to date for a program aimed at removing those with mental health issues from the county jail "revolving door."

Commissioner David Sharpe offered the amendment and it was approved 8-1. Commissioner Greg Martin said it was a worthwhile project, but should have been vetted through the normal budget process.

Albert Kiser, county finance administrator, said the $120,000 would come from the county fund balance. He said it has $100 million - up $6 million from last year.

Sheriff Jim Hammond said the program is based on successful ones in place in Charlotte, N.C., Nashville and Memphis.

He said more funding is needed, even with the county match, but he said, "The funding is falling into place."

The state recently declined to award the county a $3.3 million grant over five years. However, Sheriff Hammond said State Mental Health Commissioner Marie Williams had asked for a meeting with him in Chattanooga next week.

Sheriff Hammond said an ACT Team is being formed to begin operation of the program.

The sheriff has long contended that many of the jail inmates have mental issues and the jail is ill equipped to deal with them. He said money going for jail expenses could much better be used for housing and treatment for those individuals. 

Donors so far include $10,000 from Unum; $20,000 from the Commmunity Foundation of Greater Chattanooga; $25,000 from the Osborne Foundation; $25,000 from CHI Memorial and $40,000 from the Maclellan Foundation. 

Even if the new program gets into operation, Sheriff Hammond said the plan will still be to eventually close the downtown jail and make improvements to existing facilities at Silverdale as well as building more capacity.

He said there was a discussion this week about the initial $20 million needed for Silverdale updates and for additional space to house females. He said there are over 300 female inmates at Silverdale.

The commission also approved a contract with Bowen & Bowen, LLC, that has been handling fundraising and publicity on the effort. It is planned to cover its $1,500 per month fee from donations rather than county funds.


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