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Judge Orders Marshals to Transfer Prisoner Due to Inadequate Diet at Jail

By Brandon Sample

United States Magistrate Judge Todd Campbell has ordered the U.S. Marshals Service to transfer a pre-trial detainee from a county jail after determining the jail failed to provide a nutritionally adequate diet.

While being held at the Robertson County Jail on federal charges, Tellis Williams sent a letter to the court complaining about inadequate nutrition, hygiene and medical care at the jail. Over the government's protests, Judge Campbell decided to hold a hearing concerning Williams' allegations, writing that "the Court has the authority under the Bail Reform Act…to make decisions regarding the detention or release of individuals awaiting trial and/or imposition or execution of sentence."

At the hearing, Williams and other prisoners testified that they were not fed enough and were "perpetually hungry." One prisoner lost approximately 100 pounds, while another lost 38 pounds because of the poor diet at the jail.

The government attempted to defend the jail, arguing that the jail's menu provided at least 2,700 calories per day. The menu was not regularly followed, though, the court concluded.

The government had also argued that the weight-loss suffered by the prisoners was "healthy." Judge Campbell, however, said that he was "not persuaded that a mandatory weight reduction plan for overweight inmates is a legitimate penological objective for the Jail."

Finally, the government contended that Williams' complaints were unfounded because the jail was certified by the Tennessee Corrections Institute (TCI). The TCI representative who testified at the hearing, though, said he had never looked at the quantity of food served to prisoners at the jail, and that TCI does not have the manpower to monitor jails that closely.

Largely based on the unrebutted evidence of weight-loss by prisoners at the jail, Judge Campbell ordered Williams transferred to another facility. Judge Campbell declined to address Williams' other complaints in light of his finding that the diet at the jail was not nutritionally adequate, and order that Williams be transferred.

See: United States v. Williams, No. 3:09-00090 (M.D. Tenn. 2009).

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Related legal case

United States v. Williams