Fix Tennessee's Antiquated and Dangerous "Safekeeping" System
TAKE ACTION NOW
Our client T.W., a sixteen-year-old Shelby County girl, was held in solitary confinement for six months this past winter. She had no human interaction besides prison staff and a visiting teacher permitted to pass materials to her through a slot in her cell door. The reason she was in solitary? Tennessee's ironically-named "safekeeping" statute.
This law is used to remove "special needs" pretrial detainees — including pregnant women, people with illnesses or mental health issues, and even young people like T.W. — from local jails and send them to state prison and other facilities if the local jail is deemed "insufficient" to house them.
Once at Tennessee Department of Corrections prisons, these vulnerable detainees — none of whom have yet been convicted of a crime — are segregated from the general population and kept in solitary confinement, spending upwards of 22 hours alone in their cells with little-to-no human interaction, for weeks, months or even years at a time, with devastating consequences for their psychological health. They also lack proper exercise and education, have limited access to mental health treatment, and suffer the stress of being unnecessarily removed from their communities and separated from their local support systems — all before any of them have ever had their day in court.
SB 1575/HB 2106 would be a step in the right direction toward improving conditions of confinement for people with special needs who are awaiting trial. As amended, the measure ensures that when a county jail is insufficient to house a juvenile, he or she will go to the nearest sufficient juvenile detention facility in the state and not state prison; allows judges to move prisoners if conditions at a facility become insufficient for any reason; and requires a judicial review every 30 days to determine whether any modifications to confinement are needed, including reviewing the use of solitary confinement at the facility where the person is being held.
TAKE ACTION: Tell lawmakers to fix Tennessee’s dangerous “safekeeping” statute.
UPDATE: This legislation is scheduled for a vote on the Senate floor on Monday, April 23. It passed the House on April 18.
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