Criticism is inaccurate, Bartlett jail official says

Jail on a Monopoly board
Stock photo via; some rights reserved.

A man jailed in Bartlett for four days wrote a scathing criticism Sunday of the facility’s cleanliness and the staff’s actions, but a jail spokesman said the facility’s condition and records show that all the allegations are untrue.

Jeff Davis of Bartlett said he was jailed for public intoxication. He alleged unsanitary conditions, near-starvation-level food rations, unprofessional staff behavior, insensitivity to a fellow inmate’s medical needs and other issues.

“I know jail is not supposed to be fun, but that’s inhumane,” he said. “It’s not fair.”

He’s getting pushback on his criticisms, however.

“None of it is factually correct,” said Capt. Chris Page, supervisor over communication and jail operation. He noted that the jail completes an annual state inspection, and it passed for 2014. The jail has a staff of nine and serves 13-15 inmates on most days.

Davis blasted his letter to officials for the jail and Shelby County, the Bartlett Police Department, the Bartlett mayor, a Memphis councilwoman, a state senator, the governor, activist websites and multiple media outlets.

Following is his letter, with his comments in bold blue text and the responses from Page and other officials in italics.

The letter and official responses

Sir, as it is your responsibility to inspect the Bartlett Jail premises on a regular basis, I am very troubled by the following factors:

How do you live with yourself when you know that Bartlett City Inmates are kept in completely unsanitary and inhumane conditions?

1) The felony-cell toilets have never been cleaned properly. They do not flush properly amd there is a coat of green slime on every toilet in the felony pod. This makes for a hepatitis nightmare, among other bacterial strains and STD’s.

Page said the toilets work and are sanitary. Cleaning solutions have discolored the stainless steel toilets over time.

2) Inmates are not even given a bar of soap, much less a toothbrush, comb, toothpaste, deodorant or even the most basic of hygiene materials.

Page said the jail follows its rules of giving inmates a clean jumpsuit and a disposable cup containing a toothbrush, toothpaste, soap and deodorant. 

Shampoo is available on demand but is not given out automatically because inmates dump it out and smear it around when it’s left by the showers. Inmates are allowed an hour daily in which they can choose to shower or have recreational time.

Page said the staff cannot force an inmate to shower unless it becomes an issue of sanitation, health or hygiene.

3) The shower in the felony pod is completely backed up. When the smallest amount of water flows into that shower drain, raw sewage seeps up, dousing the inmate’s feet with utterly disgusting foulness.

Page said the E Block’s shower had a temporarily problem with water backing up, but there was no exposure to sewage. The drain backed up because of items the inmates shoved into the drain, so the jail officials hired a plumbing company to come out and snake out the system.

4) Inmates are not allowed to wipe their filthy mats before lying in them at night, and God-knows-what kind of potential bacteria and virus are festering within those mats, that have never seen a spray bottle since the day Bartlett acquired them.

Page said some bunks are metal and most are concrete. They have a green mat that is about four inches thick. All meet state and local standards and a logbook tracks how they are sanitized every Friday.

There are brief exceptions, he said: Unless it becomes a necessity, the jail staff does not try to clean cells that contain inmates who pose a threat.

The ones who arrive highly intoxicated are often combative for the first four to eight hours, and about half can be dealt with normally after the alcohol or drug wears off. However, some individuals have mental diseases, military post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or can’t afford medications, and they remain a threat because they’re not able to be rational.

Even threatening inmates who have bowel movements or urinate in their cells are removed temporarily and the cells sanitized once a sufficient staffing level is available for the process.

He also said the jail staff is prohibited from asking inmates to do work (such as clean their cells or bunk mats) if they have not been sentenced (such as those who are pre-trial), but his staff is responsive if inmates request cleaning materials.

5) No one expects good food in jail, but the caloric intake of the meager two meals served per day in the Bartlett jail, average roughly a mere 460 calories. According to top nutritionist the nation over, this is the equivalent of borderline starvation!

Page said the Tennessee Corrections Institute (TCI) inspections process requires an annual dietitian letter, and the jail provides above-acceptable food standards for non-working inmates (those who have not yet been sentenced and cannot be required to work). He explained that the jail is required to feed non-working inmates twice daily, and he estimated that the calories typically range from about 900 to 1,100 calories daily.

6) Inmates are not allow to change clothes on a regular basis. This should be performed, at minimum, twice per week.

Inmates are allowed one clean jumpsuit daily, Page said. They get it automatically when they shower but have to request it if they skip showering.

7) Likewise, the health department requires washing the Styrofoam cups distributed at least twice per week, or exchanged for new, clean cups.

Inmates receive a cup upon arrival and can request a replacement as needed, Page said. Replacement ones are available on the breakfast cart each morning. 

Bored inmates often shred their disposable cups in their cells, he said.

8) Inmates are not allowed to sweep or mop the layer of dust and grime that covers the floors in every pod. This leaves a disgusting stench and aggravates even the strongest of men’s allergies.

Most of the inmates at the jail have not yet been sentenced and are classified as “non-working inmates,” Page said, which means the jail staff is prohibited from asking them to clean their cells or perform other work; the jail has a cleaning schedule that is followed for keeping cells sanitary without inmate assistance. However, inmates can always request cleaning materials, Page said.

“If they ask us and if it’s not a problem inmate — violent — we absolutely let them have it,” he said. “We’d be morons not to. That’s something a jailer would have to do later on.”

9) I have witnessed first hand guards lying to inmates regarding their court cases, and threatening them with no food or their prescribed medication. The inmates are not even able to file a grievance over things like this, without fear of retribution!

Page said that is absolutely untrue and added, “Our jail staff is probably the most accommodating and professional I’ve seen. If I witnessed any of that myself firsthand, I would take care of that because I don’t want them to represent our jail staff or our city.”

10) The most disturbing thing I witnessed in the Bartlett jail was the pitiful plight of an elderly black man who looked to be in his late sixties. The poor man was allergic to the pitiful food rations and, for roughly an entire month, he ate nothing but two slices of bread per day. Other inmates offered up their bread in an effort to help this man and the guards refused that request with more threats of withholding food.

Not only that, but the elderly black man suffered from high blood pressure and a heart condition, and he was denied the most BASIC medical treatment.

Absolutely untrue, Page said. He explained that most inmates stay two to four days, but that inmate was there for almost a month and seemed genuinely sick from the meals. Page personally spoke to him and consulted with the jail’s nutritionist, who said that sometimes older people who are set in their dietary ways do find that abrupt dietary changes shock their systems. On her advice, Page went to Kroger and bought peanut butter, jelly, bread, fruit cups and other foods that the man enjoyed for the rest of his stay.

That inmate also received the state-mandated physical after 14 days of incarceration and also received non-emergency medical attention and transportation to Regional Medical Center in Memphis twice. Page explained that some inmates clearly request medical attention just for a change of scenery, but the staff avoids liability and is responsive anyway to healthcare complaints.

This all adds up to cruel and unusual punishment and it is COMPLETELY UNACCEPTABLE. I will make it my mission from this day forward, to see the inmates at Bartlett City Jail treated with basic human decency.

Another matter I will address, and this is nothing you have direct control over, but for the sake of the numerous media outlets and human rights groups I will be forwarding this to, I feel I must mention it.

I noticed, during my short stay in the Bartlett Jail, that regardless of the inmate’s charges they were all given a virtually identical fine to pay. From charges of simple possession, driving with no license, simple assault, DUI 1, Petty larceny, loitering, and countless other misdemeanor charges, all the inmates that were forced to use the public defender were told to pay a fine of roughly $1,000 dollars.

Even more troubling is that they are only given 6 months to pay these fines or they face state time at the Penal Farm. Sir, are you familiar with Jim Crow laws? There was a time in history when the Federal Government judged it to be unconstitutional to put people behind bars, simply because they were too poor to pay outrageous fines.

A spokesman for the Bartlett city clerk’s office said there is great variety in the fines levied, and it depends on many factors, including the judge’s discretion.

For example, a first charge of simple possession might earn just probation and participation in a diversion program; when that’s completed, the case would be dismissed just for the cost the state incurred ($62).

Fines for driving under the influence (DUI) varies widely and are usually fairly costly; some of the factors include whether blood was drawn and if there was implied consent.

Conviction on petty larceny (usually for theft under $500) can lead to participation in a diversion program, depending on the results of a background check. If a diversion program is used, the cost to the inmate would be just the state cost ($62) plus the district attorney’s crime fee ($75). However, it can vary, depending on the judge’s discretion.

From this inhumane treatment of human beings to the number of undocumented Illegal workers the City of Bartlett employs, this small city seems to think the Constitution and Federal and State laws do not apply to them.

Mayor Keith McDonald rejected Davis’s statement about Bartlett employees. “We do not hire undocumented workers,” McDonald wrote in an email response. “There is No Truth to his allegation.”

Bartlett is long overdue for an overhaul of it’s laws and policies. I want you to know that I will not rest until I have exhausted every legal avenue, every civil rights group, every top official in this country that will listen to my plea, and every concerned citizen that will join with me in a petition to bring reform to this city. I can only hope you will choose to see the righteousness in treating others as you, yourself, would wish to be treated.

Best Regards,
Jeff Davis

After responding to each of Davis’s concerns about the jail, Page concluded, “Jail is not a place that anybody wants to be, but in no way is it cruel and inhumane or anything like that. … The inmates don’t like it here anymore than anywhere else, but they always complement the staff when they’re comparing it to others.”