Sheriff sees ‘dirty politics’ in PAC complaints over prisoners’ trip to church

Bradley County Sheriff Eric Watson held a news conference Thursday to denounce as “dirty politics” claims by a political action committee that he put the public in danger by taking nine state prisoners to a church in civilian clothes, apparently unguarded, reports the Times Free Press. 

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Lawsuit filed over White County jail inmate birth control program

From an Associated Press report:

A Tennessee sheriff and judge violated the constitutional rights of jail inmates by promising to reduce their sentences if they underwent birth control procedures, an ex-inmate says in a federal lawsuit.

Christel Ward was among the misdemeanor-level White County Jail inmates who took the deal, according to the lawsuit. She said Thursday that she still has the unwanted birth control device in her arm that authorities injected in her.

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Scott County jail faces three lawsuits over medical care of inmates

Three federal court lawsuits have been filed accusing the Scott County jail of failing to provide proper medical care for inmates, reports the News Sentinel.

One contends the jail staff and private medical providers ignored “cries for help” from an inmate who wound up dead of a staph infection; another says a woman was left to languish without care while suffering hundreds of seizures; a third charges that a case of tuberculosis was ignored. All three alleged incidents came after the jail failed  a 2016 jail inspection by the Tennessee Corrections Institute in 2016 — and after the Institute declared problems with medical treatments had been corrected.

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Judge ends offer of reduced jail time for vasectomies, blames state Dept. of Health

White County General Sessions Court Judge Sam Benningfield has rescinded his controversial offer to reduce the jail sentences of male prisoners who get vasectomies and female prisoners who get contraceptive implants, reports WTVF-TV. He blames the state health officials for the decision.

The contraceptive procedures were offered free by the state Department of Health when the judge in May issued an order authorizing 30-days off jail times for inmates who undergo the procedures. He issued a new order rescinding the offer for new inmates, saying officials have advised him the department “will no longer offer free vasectomies… and will not provide the free Nexplanon implant” to White County inmates who get a sentence reduction.

The judge said in his order that those who had already signed up – at least 32 women and 38 men, according to an earlier report — will still get the 30-day sentence reduction without going through the procedures. The order says these inmates have “demonstrated to the court their desire to improve their situations and take serious and considered steps toward their rehabilitation.”

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Legislators seek AG opinion on judge reducing jail time for vasectomies or birth control implants

News release from Senate Majority Leader Lee Harris

 MEMPHIS – Sen. Lee Harris and Rep. G.A. Hardaway have asked state Attorney General Slatery to give his opinion on whether Tennessee judges have the power to impose, reduce, or vary a defendant’s criminal sentence based on whether the defendant undergoes a medical procedure that would permanently or temporarily limit the defendant’s ability to have children.  They released the following statements in response to Judge Sam Benningfield’s efforts to reduce sentencing for inmates who choose to receive a vasectomy or implant in the White County jail.

Sen. Lee Harris said, “We depend on our judges to administer justice fairly, not to use their position of power to coerce vulnerable populations to give up their God-given rights to have children or not have children. Reproductive health care options should be available to all, in prison and out. However, those options should always be offered on a voluntary basis. These options should not come with strings attached or through coercion.”

 Rep. G.A. Hardaway said, “Offering incentives in exchange for someone’s reproductive freedom is not only unethical, I’m pretty sure it’s unconstitutional. It appears the inmates in White County are being targeted and they are not in a position to reject this coerced offer. Senator Harris and I have asked state Attorney General Slatery to opine on this matter and we look forward to his prompt response.”

Also signing the letter are Rep. Harold Love, Rep. Larry Miller, Rep. Antonio Parkinson, Rep. Johnny Shaw, and Rep. Joe Towns.

Note: Previous post on the subject HERE.  All those signing the request are Democrats. Shaw is from Bolivar, Love from Nashville with the others from Memphis.

Women jailers get judicial diversion after sex with inmates

Two former Scott County jail employees, both women, have been granted judicial diversion –  they will serve no time behind bars and can have their records wiped clean after good behavior during a three-year probationary period – on charges involving having sex with inmates, according to the News Sentinel.

In one case, the woman has since married the inmate after the one-time episode. The other was described by her attorney as a troubled person who has turned a new leaf in her life.

Eighth Judicial District Criminal Court Judge Shayne Sexton granted Deana Shedara Keith judicial diversion in an official misconduct case filed against her after she confessed having sex with an inmate she was supposed to be guarding at the Scott County Jail last year where she worked as a corrections officer.

…Tabitha Wilson, another Scott County jailer, also confessed a separate affair – involving repeated encounters not only at the jail but at her home while the inmate was supposed to be on work release – during the same time frame. She, too, pleaded guilty to official misconduct and was granted diversion Monday.

Wilson was a married mother of two. Keith was single and, according to defense attorney Kimberly Parton, has since married the inmate.

Sexton earlier this year resisted the idea of diversion because of a law change passed in the wake of a Knox County judicial scandal that barred elected or appointed officials the special privilege if their crimes involved their jobs. Sexton was the first judge in the state to question the scope of that law and whether it included public employees. The state Attorney General’s office has since opined the Legislature only intended for the law to bar officeholders, not employees, such as rogue cops, misbehaving jailers, thieving government workers or even public employee supervisors.

… Prosecutor Philip Kazee balked at diversion for the pair. “We’re sending a message to corrections officers that you can have sex with inmates, and you can have it wiped off your record,” he said.

Sexton disagreed. “One of the options the court has with diversion is if that doesn’t work, we can come back in here,” he said.


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