Tennessee Jailers Threatened, Retaliated Against Inmates Who Exposed Scabies Outbreak, Lawsuit Says

Female inmates in Nashville, Tennessee had their phone privileges revoked, were threatened with solitary confinement and suffered unnecessarily without proper medical treatment during a scabies outbreak, a federal lawsuit alleges.

The outbreak occurred at Metro-Davidson County Detention Facility, which is ran by CoreCivic, a company that owns and manages private prisons and detention centers across the country.

“Inmates attempted to inform their family members about the scabies infestation over the phone and asked their families to research scabies on their behalf,” the lawsuit states. “Because [CoreCivic] monitors all phone calls, those inmates immediately had their phone privileges revoked, in retaliation for attempting to bring light to the epidemic.”

Scabies is a contagious skin infestation spread by direct contact caused by the female mite Sarcoptes scabiei var. hominis, which burrows into the skin and lays eggs. The most common symptoms are severe itchiness and a sometimes painful pimple-like rash.

Earlier this month, more than 320 inmates at the facility received treatment for scabies delaying court hearings and a murder trial. Even attorneys and staff at Nashville’s courthouse were affected by the mite.

The 21-page lawsuit seeks class action status for female inmates who suffered from the outbreak. It includes allegations that officers threatened, retaliated against and denied medical treatment to those afflicted while downplaying the severity of the situation.

“[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 a CoreCivic spokesperson, “the Davidson County Sheriff’s Office and the Metro Public Health Dept. were notified of this issue from the start.” The lawsuit says however, that though inmates began exhibiting symptoms of scabies in January, the Health Dept. was not notified until mid-May.

It was a family member of an inmate who finally made the Health Dept. aware of the outbreak after the inmate made a phone call, according to the lawsuit. The woman was then reportedly taken to a skin specialist in Franklin on May 19 at the direction of the Health Dept. where she was diagnosed and prescribed treatment.

The lawsuit states that the woman, identified as Wendy Snead, was then denied medication once she returned to the jail, and was “placed in segregation without food, a mattress or any of her personal belongings for many hours. . . [unable] to call her family.”

According to the lawsuit, “[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 also details the account of Jennifer King, who was being held at the facility while she awaited trail. King reportedly informed staff about symptoms of scabies in January but was not allowed see a doctor until February, who then denied her treatment.

After King was transferred to a different housing unit four months later, she was “covered from head to toe with the visible rash,” but was still placed in a cell with seven other inmates, the lawsuit states. Shortly thereafter, all inmates in the cell also exhibited symptoms of scabies.

The ordeal has prompted inquiries from state and local lawmakers. The Davidson County Metro Council has set a hearing for Thursday in which CoreCivic officials will be questioned. Additionally, State Rep. John Ray Clemmons has requested that Metro council members investigate whether CoreCivic violated its contract to provide services at the jail.

“This is only the latest incident in a consistent pattern of alleged failures and negligent conduct by [CoreCivic] with respect to the provision of appropriate safety and health care services at [CoreCivic] facilities nationwide, including the Metro Detention Facility,” Clemmons said.

CoreCivic spokesman Jonathan Burns said in a statement on Sunday that the company “don’t comment on pending litigation,” but he maintained that “the health and safety of our staff, community and those entrusted to our care is our top priority.”