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Posted on: June 30, 2020

Mayor Lee Harris’ Update on Extensive List of Reforms to Protect Shelby County Inmates

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Today, I signed an Executive Order to expand the protections for prisoners housed with the Shelby County Division of Corrections. This Order will build on our previous efforts to be extremely aggressive in working to slow the spread of COVID-19 in our prison facility, also known as the penal farm. See the Executive Order here.

For instance, we recently surged COVID-19 testing at the penal farm, in an effort to make sure we can identify cases and make efforts to reduce the risk of further transmission. During our surge in testing, everyone—every prisoner, every corrections officer, and every member of staff—was offered and encouraged to participate. We will continue to expand our efforts to make our facilities safe, protect the vulnerable, and lift up the concerns of the least of these. Among other measures, this Executive Order will ensure testing access; 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.

More specifically, today’s Executive Order expands protections and requires the Division of Corrections to take several steps, including:

  1. Cease in-person visitation, and provide remote or video visitation as an alternative in order to maintain contact with family and community.
  2. Cease admission of new prisoners from any out-of-county prison or detention facility, unless required by law.
  3. 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.
  4. Ensure that testing is provided for prisoners or staff members who exhibit a symptom consistent with COVID-19, or who have been exposed to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.
  5. Ensure that there are reasonable testing opportunities for individuals who seek testing regardless of whether such individuals have exhibited symptoms.
  6. Distribute masks and facial coverings to prisoners and staff every week at no cost to any prisoner or staff, and institute policy to grant requests for a replacement if the mask becomes wet or soiled.
  7. Distribute hand-washing and cleaning supplies to maintain personal hygiene, and for the regular cleaning of common areas and surfaces.
  8. Provide remote or video access for educational, religious, personal growth, re-entry, or other mentoring programming, such as the program conducted by Hope Church.
  9. Make prompt disclosure to the Shelby County Health Department regarding COVID-19 testing and testing results.

Around the country, some of the biggest COVID-19 outbreaks have been in congregate settings, like nursing homes and prisons.  Here in Shelby County, we will take an aggressive approach to expand protections in these settings. That includes expanding protections at Shelby County’s prison to reduce the risk of spread among the inmates who are housed there. That includes working with partners, like MICAH, that have been actively engaged on these issues.

Individuals, who have been on the wrong side of the law, deserve our humanity and compassion.  Although they were sentenced to a prison term, they were not sentenced to COVID-19.


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