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Shelby County Sheriff releases information on how he says office has handled the COVID-19 pandemic in jails

The Shelby County Sheriff’s Office released information Friday on how it said it has handled the COVID-19 pandemic at detention facilities in the area.
Credit: WATN

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The Shelby County Sheriff’s Office released information Friday on how it said it has handled the COVID-19 pandemic at detention facilities in the area.

In the statement posted to social media, the sheriff said “it is important to remember that these detainees are all pre-trial” and that the sheriff’s office can not mandate vaccines for detainees.

Sheriff Floyd Bonner said in the release they had regular meetings with the county health department and the inmate health provider to stay up-to-date with CDC and WHO guidance.

He said usually those testing positive are new detainees, and as of Friday morning, there was only one positive case at all three facilities.

RELATED: Federal judge: "Population in deep peril" when it comes to COVID in the CJC

The sheriff said in the release that he could not comment on pending litigation, but mentioned a case that he said court documents would show was settled earlier this year. He said there remains disagreement and that is what is on appeal.

Cleaning and air systems

  • The sheriff said the department invested in deep-cleaning equipment for the jails so they would not rely on contracting providers regularly. He said the cleaning is performed regularly and surfaces in common areas are cleaned hourly.
  • A new system was purchased to “enhance the air” at the main jail. The sheriff said it cost more than $1 million.

How detainees are handled

  • Detainees take a health questionnaire and temperature check at intake, and are giving information about COVID-19 and vaccinations if they wish.
  • New detainees without symptoms are held in quarantine for 14 days and screened by medical personnel before entering the general population.
  • The sheriff said are provided hand soap and are not penalized for having too much. There are also paper towels, cleaning products, and hand sanitizer in each housing unit.
  • Detainees get at least two cloth masks each, which are laundered regularly. Everyone must wear masks. The sheriff said sewing machines were purchased so masks can be made as needed.
  • Social distancing is maintained when possible. Detainees get non-contact recreation daily.
  • Vaccinations are offered weekly. The sheriff said inmates are given $20 for their trust accounts when vaccinated, and sometimes entered into other drawings for more account money or even the City-sponsored drawing for a vehicle. They also had a pizza party for the housing unit with the most vaccinations.
  • The sheriff said when families or attorneys bring specific concerns about a detainee, they “promptly investigate and respond.” The sheriff said they cannot respond to “vague allegations” without specific information.

RELATED: COVID-19 class action lawsuit dismissed, inmates to receive vaccines

Staff and Employees

  • Staff and vendors have a daily health questionnaire and temperature check before entering.
  • The sheriff said they have worked to increase staffing, including increasing the starting salary and offering $5,000 incentives as well as staff recommendation incentives.

Court hearings

  • The sheriff said many court hearings have moved to video appearances, and accommodations have been made for non-contact visitation with legal counsel.
  • The sheriff said judges, the DA and public defenders are working to reduce the jail population as they are able to. He said the team regularly looks at medically vulnerable inmates, those whose cases are not moving quickly, and those whose charges make them eligible for reduced bond or quick deposition.

Other efforts

  • The sheriff said education videos on COVID-19 and vaccinations are shown several times each day. Medical professionals make visits to answer questions, and weekly town halls are held to get any questions answered as well.
  • Posters and information are posted throughout the facilities.
  • Bonner said Project Pat from Three-6 Mafia held a motivational seminar, and the Grizzlies provided a video urging vaccinations.

Sheriff Bonner said the American Correctional Association, Tennessee Corrections Institute, and National Commission on Correctional Health have all recommended reaccreditation.

Posted by Shelby County Sheriff's Office on Friday, November 5, 2021