Tennesseans being held in solitary confinement before trial

Mar 27, 2018

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (OSBORNE)  --  State lawmakers are questioning corrections officials about a program that puts Tennesseans in solitary confinement before they ar convicted of any crime.

Senators on Monday quizzed Corrections Commissioner Tony Parker about Tennessee’s “Safe Keepers” program following media reports about the initiative. The prograrm sends local offenders awaiting trial to state prisons if their special needs can’t be met in county jails.

Tennessee Corrections Commissioner Tony C. Parker testifies before a State Senate committee Monday, March 26, 2018.
Credit tn.gov

Parker told a Senate committee there are a variety of reasons why inmates are classified as Safe Keepers. Some have serious health problems, others have psychological issues, or they may be at risk of being abused by other inmates in the county jail.

Commissioner Parker noted that state law often requires that Safe Keepers be housed away from the general prison population. He says often the only way to meet that requirement is to place them in solitary. But he says the state is trying to lessen their isolation.

“We have a significant interest in being as less punitive as we can in housing that offender appropriately and safely. Bring services to them and getting them outside that cell for two or three hours a day in some case.”

Parker told lawmakers he’s now asked for a formal review of Safe Keeper program policies.

“I’ve asked our Chief Legal Councel Debbie English and some others to look at our policies going forward. If we have Safe Keepers who have no medical issues and are not required to be held at DeBarry to try to find ways be as less restrictive as we can.”

Parker noted that statewide there are currently seven juveniles being held in solitary as part of the Safe Keepers program.