Every day, Tennessee’s county jails house approximately 28,000 inmates. Our state’s local jails are overcrowded and costly to operate, and local officials are often forced to address mental health and substance abuse problems exclusively through the criminal justice system.
Nationwide, many states are finding success in reducing the costs of incarceration, lowering crime rates and producing better outcomes for incarcerated people and their communities by reevaluating how they are spending money on corrections. Innovative solutions such as pre-booking diversion programs through which low-level offenders are directed to community-based services rather than jail and prosecution, mental health or recovery courts, and reentry programs, all help stop the revolving door of the criminal justice system.
However, the challenges facing a county jail relative to overcrowding, inmate health care, substance abuse and mental health issues — as well as the rising costs of incarceration — are often difficult to tackle at the local level.
SB 708/HB 911, sponsored by Sen. Ken Yager and Rep. Tim Wirgau, would create a task force comprised of state and local officials and citizens to study best practices and new approaches to the management and coordination of local correctional facilities.
The goals of the task force would be to enhance overall operations of the criminal justice system at the local government level, to ensure that taxpayer money invested in local correctional facilities is used wisely and efficiently, to ensure that the rights of individuals involved in local correctional facilities are protected, and to ensure that such individuals are directed or diverted into appropriate programs that will best protect public safety, reduce recidivism, and provide the best likelihood for those individuals to become productive citizens. The task force would also examine the challenges raised by individuals dealing with mental illness or substance abuse problems who may become involved with local law enforcement or correctional facilities.