Tennessee Denies Responsibility for Actions of Private Prison Employees

BASED ON CASE LAW

by Sharon Rondeau

(Jul. 2, 2017) — Earlier this year, Tennessee inmate Ronald Allen, #356042, filed a complaint with the Claims Commission of the State of Tennessee, Middle Division, alleging “negligent care, custody or control of personal property and persons” arising from his incarceration at the Trousdale Turner Correctional Center (TTCC) in Hartsville.

“Claimant alleges that he has been deprived of work opportunities and other programs while being housed at Trousdale Turner Correctional Center,” a summary of Allen’s complaint reads.  “He claims that he has lost wages and suffered emotional and mental strain.”

Allen has written to us previously and provided a great deal of documentation.

TTCC is a privately-run facility and the subject of a recent four-part series aired by WSMV, Channel 4 in Nashville.  Cited as serious concerns in the mini-documentary anchored by veteran reporter Demetria Kalodimos are unexplained inmate deaths, gang activity, substandard medical care, and the dismissal of a prison chaplain under questionable circumstances.

TTCC is owned and operated by CoreCivic, formerly Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), and was founded in Nashville in 1983.  Since early May of last year, The Post & Email has received scores of letters from inmates at the facility claiming that it is “the worst” prison they have ever experienced. The most common complaint has been frequent lockdowns wherein prisoners are confined to their cells for up to 23 hours daily because of a persistent staffing shortage.

Physical violence and injuries have also been reported attributed to both inmates and correction officers.  Additional complaints are the theft of personal property by gang members, who reportedly operate autonomously throughout the prison; lack of access to the law library; a dearth of inmate employment; little-to-no recreation time; and dangerous conditions caused by gangs.

In April, TDOC inmate Grenda Harmer, #88710, reported that in March, while housed at TTCC, he was paid for a job of which he was never made aware, to which he never reported and whose duties he never carried out.

Harmer has since been moved twice and is today in his 26th day of a hunger strike to protest TDOC treatment.  As The Post & Email reported on Saturday, statistics show that after 30 days, the likelihood of surviving a hunger strike diminishes significantly.

Lack of adherence to established Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC) policies, including the use of excessive force, had already been noted by TDOC administrator Tony Howerton after TTCC had been in operation less than three months last year.

In May 2016, inmates’ relatives told WSMV and this publication that long trips to visit their incarcerated loved ones often resulted in curtailed visits under strained circumstances and at times, no visit at all.

On June 8, WSMV reported that a class-action lawsuit was filed against CoreCivic for allegedly failing to take sufficient action to prevent the spread of scabies from the women’s prison in Nashville to court employees and their family members.

In February, a lawsuit against CoreCivic, TTCC and the TDOC was filed by four diabetic inmates claiming they received inadequate care for their shared medical condition.

Another horrendous account of a lack of medical care at the South Central Correctional Facility (SCCF), also run by CoreCivic, was reported by WSMV in its final installment of the four-part series on June 22.

The company’s extensive Wikipedia entry documents the myriad complaints, violent incidents, facility deaths and lawsuits which have embroiled CoreCivic over the years.

While in a statement, CoreCivic was highly critical of Kalodimos’s reportage without naming her, it acknowledged, “As we’ve said publicly numerous times over a period of many months, we faced challenges with TTCC. We’ve taken responsibility for that. And we’ve made significant progress in recent months to strengthen the facility so that it fully meets our expectations, the public’s, and those of our partners. This will continue to be our priority.”

As Allen noted in his recent letter accompanying his complaint and appeal, TTCC recently was assigned a new warden.

In his complaint, Allen noted that CoreCivic is a private company operating the prison under contract with the state of Tennessee. He questioned why, as a prisoner incarcerated by the state, he cannot hold it responsible for the actions of CoreCivic employees, who he claims are the perpetrators of harm against him.

TDOC Communications Director Neysa Taylor told The Post & Email last summer that “daily” oversight by a TDOC monitor is provided at TTCC.

On May 10, Claims Commissioner Robert N. Hibbett dismissed the claim, citing the case of Martin v. State, which found that “Where the acts complained of were not committed by state employees, the State enjoys sovereign immunity.”  The case also states:

Allen has appealed the Order of Dismissal to the Claims Commission asking the question as to “Why! are state inmates are being housed at non-state facilities!, and why? aren’t privately own facilities are allowed to violate state policies and procedures!” [sic]

Although Tennessee law permits only one private prison within the state, CoreCivic operates 5+ facilities, including prisons, halfway houses and detention centers within Tennessee’s borders. Dave Boucher of The Tennessean has explained the presence of the additional CoreCivic prisons as the recipients of a “pass-through” arrangement wherein the state of Tennessee pays the county in which the private institution is located and the county then pays Core Civic for its work.

On page 2 of his appeal, Allen wrote that “people who work in a state or municipal ‘prison’ or perform required services for their prisoners” “can be held liable.”

Citing Correctional Services Corp. v. Malesko, 534 U.S. 61.71 N 5, 122 S. CT 515 (2001), Allen wrote, “Corporations operating private prisons or providing services to prisoners are treated like ‘city’ and ‘county.’ They can be liable for policies if their acts taken pursuant to their policies if their employees violate the ways not resulting from policy.” [sic]

The Post & Email was not able to locate that wording or similar phraseology in the Supreme Court’s 2001 opinion in Correctional Services Corp. and will be sending Allen a letter inquiring further about his appeal and the harm he claims to have incurred.

 

3 Responses to "Tennessee Denies Responsibility for Actions of Private Prison Employees"

  1. Charlotte Jones   Wednesday, July 5, 2017 at 5:17 PM

    Out of all the inhumane things about CoreCivic that are true, SB, you subjectively make it sound like my letters are the problem.

    I wasn’t an administrative employee, only contractual, so can only state the truth as it was told to me, along with what I saw and heard.

    I was told by more than one employee that the reason we were not to give any sensitive information on channel one was because it was the officially recorded channel. If I’m wrong about that single issue, I’m not about the medical conditions or the guard freaking out that her inmates needed food to offset insulin effects.

    Yes, the trainers at CoreCivic would consider me a hug-a-thug. I’m much more concerned about human rights than animal rights, care more about doing what’s right for the underdog than making money. I’m okay with the fact that this makes me a minority on planet earth.

    I do not have an agenda other than fairness. Spending tax dollars on a corporation lining their own pockets while barely feeding the prisoners in their care (and doing nothing else) is an offense against every taxpayer without even touching on the human rights issues.

    If you disagree with my point of view that doesn’t surprise me. After all, you were promoted to a supervisory position and that only happens if you’re willing to follow the corporate lead for personal gain. The American way.

    They’re doing whatever they can to frustrate prisoners so that they break more rules, earn more charges and keep the beds full. How can you possibly be okay with that? I’m not and never will be.

    Many of these guys don’t have your education, your brain or good looks. Many have no family, grew up in foster care, had no money for a decent attorney.

    Maybe my heart is bigger than my head but everything I say is the truth as I know it. I’ve got no clue what else you believe I’ve stated is untrue, but how would you know?

    I worked alone in my pod, never requested assistance, never missed a single day, was never disciplined for any infraction, never had any incidents occur under my watch. Thus, I’m made to look bad through innuendo.

  2. SB   Monday, July 3, 2017 at 4:36 PM

    It’s hard to read your posts Charlotte Jones and think you aren’t biased or have some motive as some of the things you state aren’t true.

    Channel 1 isn’t recorded. They probably told her to go to an alternate channel because of too much traffic going back and forth between her and the kitchen.

  3. Charlotte Jones   Sunday, July 2, 2017 at 5:29 PM

    This is just terrifying, these prisoners have all been abandoned by the State of Tennessee with that ruling and anything that’s done to defy the institution itself is met with retribution.

    It was reported on Facebook that the husband of at least one of the women who spoke out on WSMV was placed in segregation after the special aired. Speaking out puts their lives on the line.

    The diabetic issue is all true. Diabetes is related to stress. Getting diabetics up at 4 am to walk a quarter mile in rain, snow, darkness, to then wait outside in the elements for sometimes more than an hour for a shot is stressful.

    They are then fed an extremely high carb meal. If the food doesn’t come out on time that insulin shot drives their sugar too low.

    While working there I once heard a CO with an Italian accent in Bravo pod stating that her inmates were going to start passing out if they didn’t get food fast.

    She was told to leave Channel One (because it’s recorded). When she refused a superior claimed she was being unprofessional.

    CoreCivic is the one place where letting people die to protect the company is considered your professional duty.

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