Samantha Max

Samantha Max covers criminal justice for WPLN and joins the newroom through the Report for America program. This is her second year with Report for America: She spent her first year in Macon, Ga., covering health and inequity for The Telegraph and 

Previously, she was an investigative reporting intern for the Medill Justice Project and a bilingual multimedia news intern at Hoy, Chicago Tribune’s Spanish-language daily. She returned to her hometown of Baltimore in 2015 and again in 2016 to work as a newsroom intern for NPR-affiliate WYPR.

Damon Mitchell | WPLN News

Pegram resident Tiffany Campbell woke up at 3:15 a.m. to a text from her brother telling her to check on their mom.

“I threw my clothes on. I was like, I’m going, I don’t care if I have to go clear to White Bluff and turn around. One way or another, if I have to walk it, I’m getting to my mom,” Campbell said.

When she made it to her mother and grandma in Kingston Springs, she found they were safe, but, she says, their homes were nearly destroyed.

“I’m grateful because, by the looks of it, it was just a matter of seconds, and mom would have been — she would have been gone,” Campbell says.

Creative Commons

The head of Tennessee’s prison system says the number of unfilled correctional officer positions has reached an “all-time high.”

Many facilities were already severely understaffed. Now, officials say the pandemic has made recruitment even harder.

The Department of Correction says it’s short more than 700 prison guards. That’s nearly 30% of all the correctional officer jobs statewide.

Commissioner Tony Parker says “not everyone’s cut out to work in corrections.”

Tennessee Dept. of Correction

A new national report on racial disparities in the death penalty explores two high-profile cases that are winding their way through the courts here in Tennessee. The analysis, published Tuesday by the Death Penalty Information Center, highlights the ways Black people are more likely to be discriminated against at every step — from arrest to jury selection to execution.

The report says Shelby County prosecutors used racial tropes to paint Pervis Payne as a drug user “looking for sex.” And in Nashville, the district attorney struck Black people from the jury in Abu-Ali Abdur’Rahman’s case.

Researcher Ngozi Ndulue says these cases show how systemic racism stacks the odds against Black people who have been accused of capital crimes.

TN Dept. of Corrections

Another round of mass testing has uncovered nearly 1,000 cases of the coronavirus at a Tennessee prison, with more results coming.

CoreCivic, which manages the facility, says nearly all are asymptomatic. But prisoners’ loved ones say they’re hearing a different story.

Jeannie Alexander gets lots of worried phone calls from people inside the South Central Correctional Facility. Even when a deadly virus isn’t spreading inside the walls, the former prison chaplain regularly hears from dozens of men and their loved ones.

In August, Alexander says, the callers started to sound even more anxious than normal.


Tony Gonzalez | WPLN News

Tennessee’s Supreme Court says it wants to eliminate racial discrimination in the state’s judicial system. A new initiative follows the recent groundswell of protests against systemic racism in policing.

But accusations of racial bias are not new in Tennessee’s court system.

As far back as 1997, a report by the Supreme Court’s Commission on Racial and Ethnic Fairness found multiple examples of discrimination, including harsher sentences for minority defendants.


Mass testing at two Tennessee prisons has uncovered nearly 2,000 cases of the coronavirus behind bars so far.

Officials have repeatedly said most inmates who have tested positive are not showing symptoms. But some health experts are cautioning prisons to prepare for that to change.

When the Tennessee Department of Correction first reported that 162 inmates at the Bledsoe County Correctional Complex had tested positive for the coronavirus on Apr. 20, officials said the “vast majority” were asymptomatic.


Amid mounting pressure from medical professionals and local leaders, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee has ordered residents to stay home unless it's essential.

Lee said during a coronavirus press briefing Thursday afternoon that he decided to issue a new executive order after data revealed that movement around the state has been on the rise in recent days, even after he issued a less strict "Safer at Home" order last month.