Shelby County mayor promises COVID-19 testing increase in jail, prison

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SHELBY COUNTY, Tenn. — The Shelby County mayor said taking care of inmates is a top priority during this pandemic.

Mayor Lee Harris’ message comes after a lawsuit was filed this week saying Shelby County Sheriff Floyd Bonner, who oversees the jail at 201 Poplar, is violating inmates’ 14th Amendment right, which states correctional officers are required to provide reasonable health and safety to those in pretrial custody.

Harris made his case Friday afternoon on the heels of a lawsuit essentially saying those who run the Shelby County Jail during the COVID-19 pandemic are dropping the ball and putting people at risk.

“We’ve been working hard to keep detainees safe at 201 Poplar and inmates at the Penal Farm, which is our prison,” Mayor Harris said.

Harris said those serving time and awaiting trial deserve humanity and compassion just like the rest of us. But family members of inmates who tested positive said that isn’t happening.

Eric Faulkner, an inmate in 201 Poplar, tested positive for the coronavirus, his sister-in-law said.

“They do not deserve what they’re going through, with no kind of medical attention of anything,” she said.

Last month, health officials reported more than 70% of the detainees in jail tested were positive.

Representatives from prison reform groups filed a 26-page complaint this week saying action is needed. 

Harris announced Friday that’s happening. 

“In partnership with the state, we’ve organized a COVID testing surge,” Harris said. “We are meeting regularly with state officials to plan for a testing surge at the penal farm.”

The testing surge is set to happen June 8, and all inmates and staff at the prison will be offered a test. 

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