A social worker spoke with News 4 about why she believes the state needs to reform its Safekeeper Law.
Under the law, those awaiting trial in county jails across the state can be moved to a state prison if that jail cannot treat an inmate's medical condition. Per state policy, they are kept in solitary confinement.
Dr. Ali Winters is a TSU professor who used to work with safekeepers at the Tennessee Prison for Women.
Winters says safekeepers have little access to treatment and putting them in solitary causes more problems than it solves.
"I had so many that were tragic stories of getting stuck, just getting stuck in solitary confinement and not getting back," said Winters. "The vast majority of them are awaiting trial. They haven't been convicted of a crime."
For the last three years, Winters has worked with safekeepers in solitary confinement.
In the last seven years, there have been more than 300 safekeepers in Tennessee.
A spokesman for the Tennessee Department of Corrections (TDOC) says per state policy, safekeepers cannot be intermingled with general inmates, and they cannot just be sent back because that would violate a court order.
TDOC adds that safekeepers have access to the full gamut of mental health and medical services as the rest of the inmate population.
"I think you can't have a blanket statement that everything is provided equally because it relies on the team, and the location, and the leadership," Winters said. "I would like to see the [Tennessee] Department of Corrections change their policy. Only Tennessee has a (safekeeper) policy that sends prisoners into solitary confinement. I would like to see them change that policy and allow those people to get out of their cells a lot more frequently."
Tennessee is one of at least eight states with a safekeeping law. TDOC maintains when an inmate is in solitary confinement, they check on them a minimum of eight times a day, or every three hours.
TDOC says they are constantly communicating with the counties where the inmate came from, and that it is up to the county court system to lift the order and bring the inmate back.
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