Five inmates test positive for COVID at Shelby County jail as Bonner takes safety precautions

By , Daily Memphian Published: April 17, 2020 1:54 PM CT

Shelby County Sheriff Floyd Bonner says his department is working to keep employees and inmates safe from COVID-19 even as five inmates have tested positive.

Bonner said the five inmates, who had been detained in the men’s jail at 201 Poplar, have been moved to the Shelby County Correctional Center and are quarantined.

Two of the five, Bonner said, were hospitalized initially but are now quarantined along with the other three in a wing at the correctional center on Mullins Station Road. 

“We have had 23 detainees tested and five came back positive at 201,” Bonner said. “As we get inmates that test positive, we will move them out to the Correctional Center to house them there away from everyone, including the (other) inmates at the Correctional Center.”

He said 225 inmates at 201 Poplar who came in contact with an inmate or an employee who tested positive have been quarantined as well.

To help prevent the spread of COVID-19, Bonner said the 1,784 inmates detained at the men’s jail have received masks as of Friday, April 17. He said the department will distribute masks to the 162 inmates at the women’s jail at Jail East and to the 55 children detained at the Shelby County Juvenile Court Detention Center as well.

He said the Sheriff’s Office received 4,000 masks from the Tennessee Department of Corrections, which has state prisoners making the masks.

“We are just like everybody else,” Bonner said. “We are having a difficult time getting these masks and trying to get the right type of masks for our detainees to wear because these masks we have are only good for about 24 hours, so we are looking at cloth masks to get more wear out of them.” 

Bonner oversees the largest jail in the state. With COVID outbreaks at larger jails and prisons across the country, including in New York and Chicago, Bonner said he is taking every precaution to keep inmates and employees safe at the three correctional facilities in Memphis.

“This is serious business, so serious that we’ve given all our detainees masks now at 201 Poplar,” Bonner said. “Our detainees have masks, our employees have masks, our vendors have masks ... so everyone that comes inside 201 are wearing masks.”

He said in addition to testing inmates at the men’s jail, the department has tested 15 juveniles at the detention center and none tested positive. At the women’s jail, no inmates have been tested, he said.

Officer at county juvenile detention center tests positive for COVID-19, commissioner says

Ninety-six jail employees have been tested for the virus and 31 tested positive. Of those, 24 are correctional deputies and another three among the remainder are Shelby County Sheriff’s Office employees. The three SCSO employees are in the hospital.

Bonner said 25 SCSO employees are awaiting their tests results.

“These are trying times that none of us have seen before,” Bonner said. “We’ve only had five to test positive out of 1,700 inmates, and that’s a testament to our medical providers, our staff working extremely hard and the health department. We’re doing all we can to keep everyone safe.”

All public jail visitations halted

He said jail staffers are also disinfecting the jail pods and the jail as well as squad cars. The department has stopped doing roll call at the substation.

Criminal Justice advocates across the country have pushed for the release of some inmates at jails and prisons during the COVID-19 outbreak. 

Some inmates have been released from 201 Poplar, dropping the jail population from 1,900 to 1,784.

All public jail visitations halted

“All these things we were accustomed to doing, we don’t do anymore because we have to practice social distancing and it has been a challenge and every day is something new,” Bonner said. “We are adapting and we are struggling to get equipment in. But as we get it in, we are providing it to our officers and our detainees and hopefully we will starve this virus out in the jail.”


Coronavirus in Shelby County Floyd Bonner Jr. 201 Poplar
Yolanda Jones

Yolanda Jones

Yolanda Jones covers criminal justice issues and general assignment news for The Daily Memphian. She previously was a reporter at The Commercial Appeal.


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