COVID-19 testing surge planned for Shelby County detainees

COVID-19 testing surge planned for Shelby County detainees

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Shelby County leaders are planning a testing surge for those detained at the jail and imprisoned at the penal farm.

As of May 15, 151 detainees and 66 employees at 201 poplar were diagnosed with COVID-19. At the Shelby County Division of Corrections, one inmate and 10 employees have tested positive, but those numbers may grow with this testing surge.

“Men and women awaiting trial and serving time deserve humanity and compassion like the rest of us,” Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris said.

Harris said he takes the safety of inmates and detainees in Shelby County seriously, and is getting the state involved to help test this population.

Testing will continue at 201 Poplar and a surge will take place at the Shelby County Division of Corrections Penal Farm where only five inmates have been tested.

“The state has decided to help. The testing surge at our prison or our penal farm will happen on June 8,” Harris said. “All inmates and prison staff will be offered a test.”

The Shelby County Sheriff’s Office, which manages the jail, is facing a lawsuit filed this week on behalf of two detainees. The lawsuit said the Sheriff’s Office isn’t doing enough to protect the jail population from the spread of COVID-19.

It calls for the release of medically vulnerable and disabled detainees. Since the start of the pandemic the jail has released nearly 700 people.

While the Sheriff’s Office is not commenting on pending litigation, Mayor Harris said the county has been working hard to keep those at the penal farm and jail safe.

“We’ve already limited access to the [Penal Farm],” Harris said. “We’ve set up daily temperature checks and screenings for anyone entering the facility. We’ve provided free phone calls and video visitation to inmates while the community was in lockdown.”

Those restrictions will be in place the Penal Farm until at least the end of the year. Visitation has been put on hold at 201 Poplar at the start of this pandemic and that is in place until further notice.

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