Coronavirus: Drive-in protest for more inmate release at KCHD

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — More than 20 people in cars held a drive-in protest at the Knox County Health Department calling for more inmates and prisoners across the state to be released given the coronavirus pandemic 

Advocates are concerned that jails and prisons do not provide enough space for inmates and prisoners to practice social distancing and are susceptible to spreading the virus. They are demanding the release of people charged with non-violent offenses, those detained on parole violations, and/or those in jail because they cannot afford their cash bail. 

“We are here for our families and loved ones who are incarcerated not only in Knoxville but across the state. We have families reaching out to us from the inside telling us that they are scared, they don’t have equipment, and they’re being pressured to take plea deals just to get out. And a lot of them are proclaiming to be innocent,” said Imani Mfalme, lead organizer of the Community Defense of East Tennessee, a part of the National Participatory Defense Network

Social distancing is virtually impossible in Tennessee’s prisons — which are operating at about 93% capacity, according to the latest data released last month.

“We know you can’t social distance inside a jail cell or a cage. We know they are not all currently being tested even though you can have this virus with no symptoms. And we know they are not being supplied the needed materials to sanitize their area and that’s not right,” said Dawn Harrington, Executive Director of 3 Hearts. 

Prisons have become the latest hot spot for the coronavirus in Tennessee. Officials announced Monday that more than 170 positive results have been confirmed at four correctional facilities. 

State health officials calling the prison population among the vulnerable populations to the virus and that they were keeping track of the data and cases associated with it.

As of Monday morning, 162 inmates have tested positive at the Bledsoe County Correctional Complex, which sits approximately halfway between Nashville and Knoxville.  

“This is a global health pandemic. Keeping everyone in is only going to make it come into our community. If there’s an outbreak in the, in the jail and they need to seek treatment, they’re going to go to your local hospital. That’s going to put a strain on your local hospital and the staff. We can let people out and we need to let them out. Now!” said Mfalme. 

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