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Fri Nov 5, 2021, 07:33 AM

Records show 60+ people have died in East Tennessee jails since 2016

Dozens of people have died while under the watch of East Tennessee jailers since 2016, a 10News review of records from more than a dozen law enforcement agencies revealed.

Some took their own lives, some overdosed and others died of illness and injury, the records showed. Most were awaiting trial — still innocent in the eyes of the law, but dead behind bars.

"Nothing is getting better, it's just getting worse," said attorney Lance Baker, who represents the families of several people who have died in East Tennessee jails.

The facilities are often chronically underfunded, understaffed and overcrowded, Baker and some county sheriffs said. In East Tennessee, jails in Hamblen and Cocke County are not fit for inmates, a state accreditation agency found.

"The working conditions are bad," said Hamblen County Sheriff Esco Jarnigan, who struggles to maintain a full staff of corrections officers. "But the pay is absolutely ridiculous." He also bemoaned inmates — who are often also addicts— smuggling contraband into the facility.


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