Shelby County Sheriff’s Office responds to claims of extremely unsanitary jail conditions during water emergency

Sheriff: Water problems improve at 201 Poplar

sMEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - MLGW said things continue to improve with the water issues in Memphis and Shelby County but for now, the boil water advisory remains in effect.

One criminal justice reform advocate told WMC Action News 5 the conditions at 201 Poplar have been unsafe and unsanitary.

The Sheriff’s Office said they’ve gone above and beyond to provide clean water and working toilets to inmates.

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During this unprecedented water crisis and boil water advisory, MLGW said they have had difficulty maintaining water pressure downtown and that includes the jail at 201 Poplar.

“We’ve been working with them all week to do pressure adjustments at the pump station,” said Nick Newman, Vice President of Engineering and Operations MLGW.

“It’s essentially as bad as it gets,” said Josh Spickler.

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Attorney Josh Spickler, Executive Director of Just City said he has received reports from inmates at 201 claiming horrible conditions, including extremely limited access to drinking water and toilets that do not flush.

Shelby County Sheriff’s Office Public Information Officer, John Morris declined to do an interview but told me those claims are not true.

He said a water tanker was brought in to provide water, toilets have been functioning and drinking water is being boiled before offered to the inmates.

Shelby County Criminal Court Judge Chris Craft said 55-gallon drums of water have also been brought in from Mississippi to help flush the toilets at 201.

“This storm and water issue only is a spotlight on the issues in the jails. Those issues have existed for years,” said Craft.

Spickler said there needs to be a large-scale infrastructure update at 201 Poplar.

Until the water pressure is resolved, he’s calling for a widespread release of non-violent offenders being held on bond.

“We have a jail that’s very old, we have a jail that’s too large and we have a jail that has people in it who are there for low level offenses, who are there on low level bonds who do not need to be there,” said Spickler.

Judge Craft said there’s no plan at this time for a large scale release of non-violent inmates and judges are already releasing everyone they can and setting lower than normal bonds due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The sheriff’s office assured that the water pressure has greatly improved at 201 Poplar.

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