MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Federal judge Sheryl Lipman has ruled the Shelby County Sheriff will not be released from a federal consent decree that oversees how COVID cases and vaccinations are supposed to be handled at the Shelby County Jail. The Sheriff had wanted to be released from court oversight.
Lipman concluded, "The estimated vaccination rate at the Jail, in the midst of the virulent Delta variant signals a population in deep peril. The Consent Decree did not enshrine mere box-checking. It enshrined meaningful protection for Plaintiff's, a medically vulnerable group."
Advocates say not enough is being done to protect inmates at the jail, the workers and the worker's families from COVID.
A court appointed expert in jail populations has issued several reports regarding problems with how the Sheriff is handling the outbreak. The inspector took issues with low vaccination rates, poor education of inmates about vaccinations, increasing population at the jail, and the lack of social distancing or separation of COVID positive inmates.
Here is the conclusion of inspector Mike Brady's final inspection:
"I am very concerned that the conditions in the Shelby County Jail have gotten far worse over the last 6 months because of staffing shortages in custody and healthcare. These shortages have colored their responses and are standing in the way of sound practices in the operation of the Shelby County Jail, and the healthcare response to the ever-changing challenges with which they are confronted. I understand the frustration of lack of space and lack of staff to remedy the issues identified in this report. However, until these deficiencies are remedied it is my expert opinion that the Shelby County Jail places Class and Subclass members at an unreasonable risk of serious illness or death."
"The sheriff's office has had months and months and months and plenty of judges oversight and we still aren’t protecting people in that jail. They have been told on many occasions either in jail inspector reports and our pleadings and now by the judge on more than one occasion that people are still not safe in that jail," said attorney Josh Spickler.
It's estimated that 25% of the jail population is vaccinated, but the judge noted in the ruling that the Sheriff 's office failed to track who has requested and received the vaccination.
"The writing is on the wall. The message is clear. So, something to protect the population in this jail," said Spickler.
Spickler said COVID in the jail is a real problem and if you aren't concerned about the inmates, consider this: "It’s not just endangering the people who are confined there. It’s endangering the staff and their families and their communities and neighborhoods because those staff members go home and come back and go home and come back."
A spokesperson for SCSO said no one will comment on the ruling because it's pending litigation.