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Chattanooga city officials have changed plans for hiring three "re-entry navigators," telling city council members Tuesday the new employees would be assigned to the Family Justice Center.

Employees in Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke's office also said two of the navigators would work with teens and the third would work with adults, instead of one working with teens and two working with adults, as the original proposal outlined.

Kerry Hayes, Berke's deputy chief of staff, made a case for the new positions in an emailed statement, writing that the city is focusing on strategic interventions with at-risk youth, deeper collaboration among stakeholders and consistent support for individuals through every stage of life.

"The navigators' role will be to assist individuals [to] safely and productively transition back into their communities following the dispensation of their criminal cases as a strategy for reducing repeated criminal activity and recidivism," Hayes wrote. "We will also be increasing our efforts to reach out to at-risk youth through our Teen Empowerment program to deter them from criminal activity and contact with the juvenile justice system."

Chattanooga police Chief David Roddy told city council members in a budget meeting this year it would be problematic to have navigators at the Family Justice Center because of the possibility victims and offenders might come into contact with each other.

State guidelines lend some support to his critique. The website for the Tennessee Office of Criminal Justice Programs states: "[C]onvicted or suspected batterers/criminals shall not receive services at a family justice center, as this would pose safety concerns for victims and staff."

A list of best practices issued in 2007 by the United States Department of Justice for the President's Family Justice Center Initiative takes a similar stance.

"No criminal defendants should be provided services at a family justice center. Family justice center sites are oriented towards victims and their children," the document states. "Off-site services to offenders should be central to any community's response to domestic violence; but no domestic violence offenders should be offered services on-site at a family justice center."

After the city's change in plans, Roddy wrote in an emailed statement Tuesday that the Chattanooga Police Department would "support, as needed, the navigators assisting ex-offenders and help facilitate efforts to provide services to them without compromising the safety of victims of crime."

He said the structure of the Hamilton County Family Justice Center follows national models and those models designate law enforcement agencies as on-site partners. However, law enforcement provides neither staff supervision nor oversight of programming at the center.

"[The Chattanooga Police Department] is a victim-centered agency therefore, caring for and supporting victims of crime in our community is a top priority for this department," he stated.

"In fact, CPD's Victim Services Unit has been designated by the FBI as a Promising Practice Agency for Law Enforcement Based Victim Services because of the superior assistance provided to victims navigating the aftermath of crime. CPD also collaborates with and currently supports many community partners who work in the field of re-entry."

Hayes addressed concerns that victims would come into contact with offenders in a follow-up statement.

"Protecting the safety, security, and privacy of all parties, including the victims and families served by the Family Justice Center, remains a top priority for the Berke administration, the Chattanooga Police Department, and all of our community partners," he said.

"The operations and activities of our re-entry 'navigators' will in no way compromise this, and every precaution will be taken to ensure that as we move forward, we remain in full compliance with all regulations, as well as the terms of the Victims of Crime Act grant that supports this work."

Contact staff writer Emmett Gienapp at egienapp@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6731. Follow him on Twitter @emmettgienapp.

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