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Memphis News & Weather | Memphis, TN | WATN - localmemphis.com

576 inmates at Bledsoe County Correctional Complex test positive for COVID-19

Courts, lawyers, law enforcement agencies have tried to reduce jail populations to lower the possible spread of COVID-19.

Update

576 inmates at Bledsoe County Correctional Complex in Pikeville have tested positive for coronavirus, according to a report from the Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC).

1,695 test results came back negative and 56 results are pending, according to the report.

Original story

The Tennessee Department of Correction said 162 inmates at the Bledsoe County Correctional Complex have now tested positive for COVID-19 after another round of strategic testing began over the weekend of April 17.

Testing began for approximately 3,100 inmates Sunday at Bledsoe County and two other facilities after numerous inmates tested positive Saturday, April 17. 

424 Bledsoe County inmates were initially tested on April 17. Of the 424, TDOC said 150 more tested positive and the vast majority were asymptomatic. Those inmates have been isolated from the rest of the prison population.

TDOC said there have been positive tests at other correctional facilities. 

5 tested positive at the Turney Center Industrial Complex, 2 at the Northwest Correction Complex, and 1 at the Trousdale Correctional Complex since April 4. 

Eight Davidson County jail inmates were placed in medical isolation after testing positive for COVID-19, WSMV-TV reported last week. The Nashville station on Thursday cited the Davidson County Sheriff's Office as confirming the positive tests.

Also, the station reported, five employees in the Sheriff's Office have tested positive for the virus, and one staff member has recovered from the highly contagious disease.

Defense attorneys across the state have raised the alarm about potential exposure and spread of the virus in jails and prisons. Confinement in close quarters makes inmates -- and jail staff -- vulnerable to exposure.

So far the Knox County Sheriff's Office has reported no positive tests in its jails. It has set aside an area to isolate inmates who are ill in case they come down with the virus. 22 inmates were isolated earlier this month.

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Many law enforcement agencies started last month cutting back on detentions of new defendants as part of an effort to reduce jail populations.

Knox County judges in late March approved an order directing that people arrested in Knox County for non-violent felonies and most lower-level crimes temporarily be allowed to remain free as their cases are prosecuted.

As of Wednesday morning, Knox County's jail population was down to 947 total, including 661 at the detention facility off Maloneyville Road, the largest holding center, according to Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Kimberly Glenn. The total count is typically above 1,200 and 1,300.

The Tennessee Board of Parole also has pledged to try to expedite the release of inmates who already have been approved for parole but may still face a mandatory exit program.

Still, some Tennessee Department of Correction staff members have tested positive.

RELATED: 19 TN correctional facilities employees test positive for COVID-19

RELATED: Federal inmates to be locked in cells for 14 days amid coronavirus

On April 12, TDOC spokesman Robert Reburn announced results after more than 1,100 employees and contract workers at the Northwest Correctional Complex in Tiptonville and the Bledsoe County Correctional Complex in Pikeville were tested April 10.

According to Reburn, 13 employees tested positive. 

"The employees who tested positive were notified of the results and referred to their primary care provider," according to Reburn. "They were further advised to seek testing for any close contacts in their homes and to self-isolate for 14 days. All of the employees were asymptomatic at the time of testing."

The department is now checking with everyone who may have come in contact with the employees to see if the virus has spread.

Federal prisons in the South also have seen outbreaks of the virus.

WMC in Memphis reports that multiple coronavirus cases have been confirmed at a federal prison in Forrest City, Ark., west of Memphis.

According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, three inmates and two staff members have tested positive for coronavirus in the medium-security prison at the Federal Correctional Institute.

Also, 32 inmates and two staff members have tested positive at the low-security prison.