Tennessee jails don’t need ‘safekeeping’ law
Marc Hyden for the R Street Institute: In Tennessee, you can be thrown in prison and held in solitary confinement indefinitely without being convicted of a crime. The practice has been used in the Volunteer State since 1858 under the euphemistically named “safekeeping” law. The law allows jail officials to transfer the accused to a state prison and place him in isolation based on highly questionable grounds.
Officially, excuses for the transfers range greatly, from the nature of the charge to behavioral issues, pregnancy and even juvenile status. Often the excuse is simply that the inmate places “an undue burden” on the county, with no further explanation. Far too frequently, however, county jailers transfer the accused because they are suffering from medical issues. Moving these inmates to state prison effectively absolves the county of the responsibility and financial obligations associated with caring for them. …
The safekeeping law was designed before the Civil War in an era when county jails were deficient in many ways, but much has changed since then. Today in most, if not all, cases, the safekeeping law is unnecessary. More importantly, Tennessee shouldn’t automatically treat defendants as though they are hardened felons simply because they are physically or mentally ill. Instead, Tennessee should respect the presumption of innocence and hold itself to a higher standard of conduct.