Family members of Tennessee inmates request for commutation of sentences amid ongoing pandemic

Coronavirus

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — On Tuesday, the state reported its first death of an inmate who tested positive for COVID-19, the news prompted family members of other inmates across the state to request a commutation of sentences with the help of attorneys.

“An early release, especially with what is going on right now, that is my plea because of this pandemic,” said Michelle Vanhoose, whose brother has spent the past 16 years at the Turney Center Industrial Complex in Hickman County.

During Tuesday’s press briefing, News 2’s CB Cotton asked whether or not the state was reconsidering its position on releasing inmates who had been paroled or are close to it.

Governor Bill Lee said this in response, “Our testing of, and subsequent treatment of inmates does not include any change to release for any of the inmates or shortening of any of those sentences.

“I think that Governor Lee should rethink that because of this situation,” said Vanhoose. “I am concerned because it can spread, and probably will spread like it is doing in Trousdale.”

Trousdale Turner Correctional Facility, privately operated by CoreCivic, has had the largest outbreak of COVID-19 cases in the state.

TDOC announced that Trousdale-inmate, Ronnie Johnson, tested positive for the virus at a hospital on April 25 and died early Monday morning.

Of the virus’ spread in prisons, Vanhoose said, “You really don’t have a six feet distance between each other, how can you possibly do that with such a large place.”

She says her brother is eligible for parole in less than two years and has maintained good behavior, she believes inmates who have earned it should have their sentences commuted.

“It is helping out with this COVID-19 [pandemic]…saving lives.”

Stay with News 2 for continuing coverage of the COVID-19 Pandemic.

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