County Criminal Court Clerk Vince Dean is urging members of the county legislative delegation to "put Hamilton County first.”
The former state legislator was among those with input at a county legislative breakfast on Friday.
Representatives of Hamilton County’s alternative sentencing program asked state legislators to advocate to give more power on the local level with funding to go along with it.
Local decisions about local people go further, said Chris Jackson, director of alternative sentencing.
Christy Cooper, administrator of county general services, said that smaller counties are turning over their programs to the state because they can’t fund or staff new state standards. But Hamilton County is big enough to do it right and do it better, she said.
The alternative sentencing program began in Hamilton County in 1996 to alleviate overcrowding in state facilities and to give criminals a chance to “get their lives back,” Mr. Jackson said.
"These people need attention," he said.
The county program is providing effective structure, guidance and job opportunities for criminals, he said.
County Mayor Weston Wamp said he plans to increase trash pickup hours and trash tonnage requirements outlined in the county contract with the corrections department.
“Nobody wants it off the street more than we do,” Mr. Jackson said.
Roadside trash pickup is now voluntary for people serving community service as part of their sentences, Mr. Jackson said. They can choose three days in jail or three days of trash pickup, and most choose jail, he said.
"Our community kind of got spoiled," Mr. Jackson said. On average, he said, Hamilton County now has about 10 people picking up trash per day, but it used to have as many as 100 per day.
"It is a good option instead of being incarcerated," Mr. Jackson said.
Ms. Cooper said that the wording in sentences for driving under the influence was changed about five years ago to "may" instead of "shall,” so that people convicted of DUI aren’t required to pick up trash as part of a community service order. They’re not required to wear the DUI vest anymore, either, since they are harassed by passing drivers, which caused state-level guidelines to change.
FATAL DRUG OVERDOSES
The Hamilton County Health Department is pushing the Overdose Fatality Review Act this year, introduced by Knox County. The multi-agency review board would be modeled after the Child Fatality Review of 1995, which focused on preventing SIDS and child drowning, among other things.
The OFRA would bring many related agencies together, such as police, public health, criminal justice, schools, pharmacies and first responders, to make an impact on the fentanyl epidemic. Fentanyl was listed as the cause of death in 76 percent of fatal drug overdoses in Hamilton County hospitals last year.
Dr. Stephen Miller, an officer on the Child Fatality Review and spokesperson for the new act, said that hotel staff, for example, are often first on the scene of a drug overdose, and their ability to respond may be lifesaving.
"Even that alone is going to prevent a lot of these deaths," he said.