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Shelby County Mayor expands COVID-19 protections for inmates

Mayor Lee Harris signed an Executive Order to expand protections for inmates in the Shelby County Division of Corrections.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris is serious.

When it comes to the coronavirus, “The spike is on everyone’s mind,” he says, “... and everybody is trying to figure out what they can to do get results back to a stable level.”

It’s like trying to thread a needle with a piece of cooked spaghetti. Mayor Harris is trying to slow things down.

“One of the things most important in this fight against COVID is protecting vulnerable populations. One of the populations most vulnerable is our prison population. So we are taking a lot of steps to protect our prison population.”

In an executive order, Mayor Harris is banning in person visits. He is going to screen employees and inmates every day. If they test positive for COVID-19, he will place them in isolation or quarantine.

“Part of the rehabilitation process, which is one of our goals,” the Mayor said, “... is making sure prisoners can connect with families. But what we’re going to do is rollout video visitation. In fact, it is successful right now, but we are going to expand its use to other programs.”

The changes will be in effect until further notice.


(NEWS RELEASE) - Today, Mayor Lee Harris signed an Executive Order to expand protections for inmates in the Shelby County Division of Corrections. The Order requires the Division of Corrections to:

  • Cease in-person visitation, and provide remote or video visitation as an alternative in order to maintain contact with family and community; and
  • Cease admission of new prisoners from any out-of-county prison or detention facility, unless required by law; and
  • Screen all employees, vendors, or other visitors, and refuse entry to employees, vendors, and visitors who present an unreasonably high temperature or other symptom of COVID-19; and
  • Provide testing to individuals who exhibit symptoms, and testing opportunities for all; and
  • Distribute masks and facial coverings to prisoners and staff every week, and institute policy to grant requests for a replacement if the mask becomes wet or soiled, regardless of an individual’s ability to pay; and
  • Distribute handwashing and cleaning supplies to maintain personal hygiene, and for the regular cleaning of common areas and surfaces; and
  • Provide remote or video access for educational, religious, personal growth, re-entry, or other mentoring programming, such as the program conducted by Hope Church; and
  • Make prompt, regular disclosure to the Shelby County Health Department and the public regarding COVID-19 testing and testing results.

Ernie Hilliard, Co-Chair of MICAH’s Re-entry Subcommittee: "My fellow MICAH leaders and I are pleased to see Mayor Harris’ administration take action to further protect inmates in the Division of Corrections. Our faith calls us to uplift the marginalized and the vulnerable. Our incarcerated brothers and sisters are extremely vulnerable during this pandemic. We believe we must restore and safeguard the humanity that is often stripped from them. The protections outlined in this executive order bring us closer to recognizing the humanity of those that are incarcerated."

Mayor Lee Harris: “Around the country, some of the biggest COVID-19 outbreaks have been in jails and prisons. Here in Shelby County, we will take an aggressive approach to protecting the inmates in our care. Among other measures, this Executive Order will ensure that we have clear procedures for regularly distributing masks and personal hygiene supplies to inmates, protocols to help reduce the risk of spread in this unique environment, and a policy for screening everyone who enters our Corrections facilities. These individuals, who may have been previously on the wrong side of the law, still deserve our humanity and compassion. Although they were sentenced to a prison term, they were not sentenced to COVID-19.”

Read the Executive Order here.

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