Sheriff unveils plan for housing, services to get mentally ill out of Hamilton County Jail

Staff Photo by Dan Henry / The Chattanooga Times Free Press- 4/5/17. High priority inmates spend time in their cells on the sixth floor while at the Hamilton County Jail in downtown Chattanooga on April 5, 2017.

Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond has often said the county jail is as much mental health hospital and homeless shelter as it is a place of correction.

As many as 40 percent of inmates are on psychotropic drugs, and a large share are mentally ill or addicted, ending up in jail because they can't access treatment or social services.

After forming a team and seriously studying the problem for about a year, Hammond on Wednesday asked Hamilton County commissioners to help.

Supported by a phalanx of medical and social service experts, Hammond asked commissioners to kick in $25,000 for an ambitious plan to get mentally ill and addicted people out of the jail and into an environment offering supportive housing and a full range of treatment and services.

He said the county's contribution would be added to similar donations from BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee and CHI Memorial.