(WBIR - KNOXVILLE) Knox County leaders met Friday afternoon to discuss the issues of chronic mental illness, substance abuse and jail overcrowding.
On and off since 2002, leaders have debated these problems.
One way to help combat these issues is with something leaders call the Knox County Safety Center, a short-term treatment facility for the mentally ill.
They had a specific proposal for the Safety Center as recently as 2014, but it never came to fruition.
Now, Knox County district attorney general Charme Allen said, leaders are picking that discussion back up.
"Hopefully, this time, we actually come up with a solution," Allen said Friday, after the meeting. "Funding has been an issue, quite frankly. Knowing exactly what we need, how we need to structure it and how to get the funding: those are three big pieces."
The plan would impact both the mentally ill behind bars - and taxpayers.
Knox County's jail is - and has been for awhile - operating near or at capacity, which is about 1,200 inmates. County leaders say nearly a quarter of those inmates shouldn't be in jail, but - rather - in a treatment center for their mental illness or substance abuse addiction.
Every year, Knox County leaders budget hundreds of thousands of dollars to cover the cost of prescription drugs for inmates with mental illnesses-- a cost that falls on taxpayers.
That's one reason why those same leaders are now re-igniting discussions about the Knox County Safety Center.
"We're not exactly sure what that Safety Center needs to look like," Allen said. "That's why we need so many players to come to the table."
Friday's meeting brought together county commissioners, members of local law enforcement, representatives from hospitals and social services providers and more.
Allen said the community already has many great providers of social services, but they all need to come together to help plan the best way to help people with chronic mental illness.
Andy Black, with Helen Ross McNabb, agrees.
"Someone with a mental health issue is still going to need quality physical healthcare, and they're going to need a safe, affordable place to live, and they're going to need clothes and food and shelter and all of those things to live successfully," he said.
The 2014 plan for the Safety Center calls for 24 beds and a 3-night-max stay.
"It gives you three days to make the assessment and then develop a treatment plan for that person so that they can be better served in the community," Black said.
But, leaders say, that plan needs revision.
Meanwhile, some community members say they worry these reignited discussion will be just that: all talk and no action. Again.
"To me, the main issue is diverting people who are mentally ill out of the criminal justice system," Black said. "Knox County is no different than any other county in the state of Tennessee or across the country."
"That's a question that we've got about the Safety Center: who goes?" Allen said. "Is it just jail diversion? Is it walk-ins? Is it hospital transfers? What is the Safety Center? And that's kind of where we are: What is it? How does it work? How does it benefit the most folks?"
County leaders came up with more questions than answers, so they decided to meet again later this month before moving forward with any kind of plan or vote.