Mental health

Efforts to create mental health court in Knox County, Tennessee nears commission vote

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE)- The Knox County Commission met on Tuesday to discuss a resolution that, if approved, would give $236,000 of state funding to create a new Mental Health Court.

Before their 5 o’clock work session, the commission met with the Mental Health Court Committee where they explained how the potential new court would work.

The court would help adults with severe mental illness receive treatment as an alternative to prison.

“I think it was an excellent opportunity for us to be able to talk to the commission and explain what we envision for our mental health court here,” Knox County District Attorney General Charme Allen said.

Allen is on a committee that is designed to lay the groundwork for the Mental Health Court here in Knox County.

“Public safety is our first and foremost incentive but in doing that, I think the more people we can help, the more people we can treat, and the more people that can really focus on their mental health needs and have those met, those people will then stay out of the system,” Allen added. 

The state has approved a reoccurring grant of $236,00 annually that would help fund the program. Now, it has to be added to the commission’s agenda before a vote in their regular meeting on June 26.

“I think it’s good. Everybody I think is very positive,” District 3 County Commissioner Gina Oster said. “We can’t talk to our fellow commissioner about it but we all know how bad Knox County is in a situation with mental health and I can’t imagine anybody who would welcome the opportunity to try to get the people the help they need in Knox County.”

Knox County General Sessions Judge Chuck Cerny would be overseeing the Mental Health Court.

“There are plenty of folks in this community who experience mental illness of one kind or another and as a result of our criminal justice system involved, there’s a significant number and we’re paying to house them, and that costs taxpayer dollars,” Cerny said. “I really believe they can lead productive, happy successful lives apart from the criminal justice system if they could get access to treatment and case management which is what we intend to provide.”

Cerny said he believes their presentation was well received by the county commission and is hopeful this new court will help many in the Knox County community.

“I’m very fortunate to have a job that I truly love and as a result of that my response is, if it’s in my capacity to help someone I certainly intend to do that.”

If approved during this work session, the resolution needs one more vote during their regular called meeting on the 26th.

Knox County’s Mental Health Court would be the eighth of its kind in Tennessee.

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