The Blount County Corrections Partnership is recommending that the county beef up the Drug Court budget as a first step in reducing jail overcrowding.

Meeting Tuesday, the BCCP members voted unanimously to recommend approval of the Drug Court’s 2014-2015 fiscal year funding request to the Budget Committee. The program is asking for a $109,824 increase in its budget for additional staffing and compensation to allow it to catch up to current demand.

The program, now being referred to as a recovery court by officials, is staffed for 35 people but is serving more than 80. Circuit Court Division I Judge Tammy Harrington, a nonvoting member of the BCCP, described the request as a “bare-bones proposal to fund the recovery court office for what we currently have as far as participants. We have more than twice as many participants as we’re truly funded for right now.”

As a successful amendment to the motion, County Commissioner Tona Monroe asked that the committee seek further data on the demand for recovery court services.

“In terms of funding and financing for recovery court, if we would identify how much we need to expand recovery court, we could advocate for funding,” she said. “If I thought it was something good for the community, I would strongly advocate for it.”

Judges support funding

Harrington and General Sessions Court Division I Judge Mike Gallegos are nonvoting members of the committee. During introductory remarks, Gallegos said that giving the judiciary more tools like recovery courts and options such as veterans treatment courts could help reduce recidivism and jail overcrowding over the long run.

“They won’t solve all of the problem, but they’ll help,” he said.

Blount County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Jeff French made the motion to recommend approval of the request. “If we don’t do something now, the clock is ticking and we’re going to be past the budget. Obviously, we know we can expand, but I would like to go and support the recommendation.”

Funding the request would give the Drug Court staff “the ability to see where we could grow that program after they get what they need now,” French said.

Failed inspection in 2012

The Blount County jail failed a Tennessee Corrections Institute inspection in June 2012 due to overcrowding. It is only certified for 350 inmates. The average daily population of the jail during 2013 was 509.

There was no item on the agenda concerning a report on jail overcrowding issued by California-based Institute for Law and Policy Planning (ILPP). The report is at the center of potential litigation after its director became embroiled in a public dispute with local officials regarding implementation of its recommendations.

Joel Davis covers state and county government as a reporter at The Daily Times.

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