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Tennessee’s ‘Safekeeping’ Law Kept Teen in Solitary Because She Couldn’t Afford Bail

By Innocence Staff

On Wednesday, 16-year-old girl Rosalyn Holmes was released on $60,000 bail from the West Tennessee State Penitentiary—an adult prison—where she was held for more than a month despite the fact that she hadn’t been convicted of a crime or even gone to trial. Her detention was referred to by Tennessee law enforcement as “safekeeping,” a practice commonly used in the state to detain people—usually in solitary confinement—who are charged with crimes but are awaiting trial.

According to the Tennessean, Holmes was charged in January with involvement in a robbery and kidnapping. According to local law enforcement, two teenage boys robbed and kidnapped a 28-year-old man at gunpoint. Allegedly, Holmes was in the car belonging to one of the boys at the time of the crime.

In April, Holmes was transferred to the state prison. She, along with one other teen, was held in “safekeeping” in an empty wing of the facility for 40 days because she could not post bail. Most of her time was spent in solitary confinement.

Alarmingly, Holmes’ case is far from rare. The Tennessean reports that there are hundreds of other people in Tennessee that are detained pretrial in state prisons for months and years—usually in solitary confinement.

“State law allows county prosecutors and jail officials to proclaim someone accused of a crime a ‘safekeeper’ if those local officials determine the local jail is insufficient for housing the person” and some “safekeepers spend months in solitary confinement even after the reason they were forced into the program is resolved” writes the Tennessean.

Earlier this year, a law maker proposed the first significant change to the state’s safekeeping law since 1858. The proposed reform would end the practice of sending juveniles to state prison for safekeeping.

Holmes bond was posted by national advocacy organization Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights.

 

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