Lawsuit: Inmates Punished If They Discussed The Jail's Scabies Outbreak

Hundreds were treated at the jail for scabies. One woman was allegedly denied her medication and sent to an area with no mattress or food. 

A federal lawsuit claims that inmates in a Nashville, Tennessee jail were threatened with solitary confinement and other repercussions if they discussed a scabies outbreak they were suffering from.

According to the Tennessean, the class action lawsuit was filed Friday against CoreCivic, a private prison company that operates the Metro-Davidson County Detention Facility where hundreds of inmates were treated for scabies. Scabies is an itchy and highly contagious skin disease caused by an infestation of parasites.

CBS affiliate WTVF-TV reported that the outbreak originated in the women's facility and spread to the men's area where two men were treated. The lawsuit is for all the women who have suffered or will suffer from the scabies outbreak. The lawsuit claims that inmates’ phone privileges were taken away after they tried to tell relatives about the scabies outbreak over the phone.

"(CoreCivic officers) began threatening Plaintiff and other inmates that if they mentioned the word ‘scabies,’ complained about it, or filed a grievance, they would be placed in solitary confinement," the lawsuit states, according to USA Today and the Associated Press.

Jennifer King, a pretrial detainee at the facility, reported symptoms of scabies in January, according to the lawsuit, but did not see a doctor until February. Four months later, King was transferred to a different housing unit and according to the lawsuit was "covered from head to toe with the visible rash." Despite the rash, the lawsuit alleges that she was placed in a cell with seven other female inmates.

According to the lawsuit, another inmate named Wendy Snead called a family member and begged them to inform the Health Department about the outbreak. She was directed to see the Health Department, which prescribed her treatment for scabies but the jail allegedly denied her the medication.

"(Snead was) then placed in segregation without food, a mattress or any of her personal belongings for many hours. She was not allowed to call her family," the lawsuit states.

"(CoreCivic's) retaliation towards Plaintiff was intended to intimidate (Snead) and other inmates from filing grievances, seeking outside medical treatment, or otherwise reporting the scabies outbreak to individuals outside of (CoreCivic's) facility."

The lawsuit was filed by attorney Gary Blackburn. His wife, Davidson County General Sessions Judge Melissa Blackburn, has criticized CoreCivic's handling of the scabies outbreak.

“They knew about a rash for a long time and downplayed it, minimized it and dismissed people who were suffering as out-of-hand complainers,” Dawn Deaner, a public defender, said during a recent Metro Council committee meeting.

A CoreCivic spokesman provided a statement to the Tennessean, saying "While we don't comment on pending litigation, the health and safety of our staff, community and those entrusted to our care is our top priority. The Davidson County Sheriff's Office and the Metro Public Health Department were notified of this issue from the start, and they have been engaged every step of the way. In situations like this, we work hard to follow all protocols and guidelines to mitigate the issue."

[The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention]

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