Knox County moves one step further to building a safety center to house those arrested for minor crimes, particularly those suffering with a mental illness or an addiction.

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(WBIR - Knox County) Overcrowding has been an issue for a number of jails in our area. One way Knox County is trying to address that problem is by building a safety center for people accused of minor crimes, particularly those suffering with a mental illness or an addiction.

Knox County leaders are now moving forward with the idea and preparing to ask for proposals to build the safety center. It's something local leaders have been discussing for years.

"We've been working on that for some 3 1/2 years and now a RFP (request for proposal) means we'll put it out for bids to see what company will bid on that to be involved in the safety center," said Knox County Sheriff J.J. Jones.

One possible location for the safety center is off Central Avenue near the Helen Ross McNabb Center, but other possible locations are on the table.

While the county continues to develop an RFP, Knoxville police and Knox County deputies are forced to bring people accused of minor crimes, like public intoxication, to the jail in northeast Knox County.

"The city, and I know the county does too, I'd imagine spends millions of dollars a year incarcerating public intoxication charges that are non-violent and there is so much more we can do that is cheaper to the taxpayers," said officer Brandon Shelley.

Officer Shelley said the safety center may be expensive upfront, but he believes it's going to be cheaper and more effective in the long-term.

County leaders hope to have the RFP ready to open for bids in a couple of weeks.

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