Two more men incarcerated in Tennessee prisons have died after testing positive for COVID-19, bringing the total number of prisoners to die with the illness to eight.
A 55-year-old man at Nashville’s Lois M. DeBerry Special Needs Facility died on Aug. 9. The next day, a man who was just 26 years old died at the Whiteville Correctional Facility run by the private prison company CoreCivic. The Tennessee Department of Correction confirmed the deaths to the Scene Tuesday.
There are currently 45 Tennessee prisoners testing positive for COVID-19 across the state, according to the department. At DeBerry, which holds incarcerated people with serious and longterm medical problems or mental health issues, 18 prisoners are currently testing positive and two have died in recent weeks. Of the eight deaths in Tennessee’s prison system related to COVID-19 during the pandemic, five have come from CoreCivic-operated prisons. To date, 3,214 Tennessee prisoners have contracted the illness and recovered.
The first confirmed case of COVID-19 in a Tennessee prison was at CoreCivic’s South Central Correctional Center in Clifton on March 28. After that, the novel coronavirus burned through Tennessee’s prison system, causing large outbreaks at several facilities across the state. At one point in May, two of the worst COVID-19 hotspots in the country were Tennessee prisons.
In late March, a coalition of criminal justice organizations petitioned the Tennessee Supreme Court, seeking the mass release of vulnerable prisoners. Neither the courts nor Gov. Bill Lee have taken such action at the state level, although the state Supreme Court did order local judges to take steps to reduce jail populations.
Three planned executions in the state have been delayed due to the pandemic.