FACILITY WAS LAST INSPECTED ON FEBRUARY 24, 2010
by Sharon Rondeau
(Dec. 2, 2010) — Through a series of phone calls and emails over the last week, The Post & Email was finally able to reach a person who said that it is her responsibility to investigate complaints about substandard conditions in Tennessee jails. Ms. Peggy Sawyer, Assistant Director and Media Contact at the Tennessee Corrections Institute, said that her agency is responsible for inspecting and reporting on county jails.
Ms. Sawyer explained today that each jail is inspected once a year in an unannounced manner. If deficiencies in standards are identified, the facility has 60 days to rectify them. If the substandard conditions are not corrected within that time frame, the Tennessee Corrections Institute can recommend that the facility be “non-certified.”
She reported to The Post & Email that the Monroe County jail was last inspected on February 24, 2010, that certification was recommended on April 6 and granted on June 2, 2010. She said the capacity of the facility is 138. When we advised that we were told that about 200 people are currently housed there, she said that the number over 138 could be state inmates for which there is no room at state correctional centers, and that number is not counted in the total population. Ms. Sawyer reported that the inmates numbered 181 at the time of the February inspection, with 57 being state inmates.
While she said that they “have no authority to investigate each complaint,” she promised to contact the inspector who would be delegated to the task of arranging for an inspection of the Monroe County jail after her return from court this morning based on The Post & Email’s report of no heat and leaking raw sewage in the day room as described by LCDR Walter Fitzpatrick, who has been incarcerated there since October 27, 2010.
When asked if people sleeping on the floor was a violation of standards, Ms. Sawyer said “No; overcrowding is common in Tennessee jails, and sleeping on the floor is permitted on a mattress.” When we explained that it was reported to us that men were sleeping on a concrete floor, she responded “That’s a problem.” She also stated that denying fresh air to the inmates is an issue as well as overcrowding to the point where a means of egress would be obstructed.
Ms. Sawyer stated that sheriffs are reimbursed only for state inmates, and that she “would be very surprised” if there was a sheriff within the state of Tennessee who would “look for” additional inmates, especially with the overcrowding which seems to be normal fare for jails in that state. We explained to her that our mission is to expose government corruption, and that myriad reports of police brutality, possible racketeering and crooked judges and grand juries have been reported on for several months. We provided Ms. Sawyer with our website location so that she could read the reports for herself.
The “Minimum Standards for Local Correctional Facilities” cites TCA (Tennessee Code Annotated) 41-4-140, the state statute which authorizes the Tennessee Corrections Institute “to establish minimum standards for local jails, lock-ups, workhouses and detention facilities in the state and conduct an annual inspection of each facility.”
One of the responsibilities of the Tennessee Corrections Institute found in Code 41-4-140 is “to ensure the welfare of all persons committed to the institutions.”
On page 7 of the “Minimum Standards” handbook, it states, “New and existing facilities shall have a temperature of not less than sixty-five (65) degrees Fahrenheit and no more than eighty (80) degrees Fahrenheit in sleeping and activity areas.” Both Walter Fitzpatrick and a recently-released inmate have reported a consistent temperature of 60 degrees or below, and that inmates are “shivering” due to the lack of heat and sub-freezing temperatures overnight.
In regard to discipline of an inmate, the manual states on page 16, “Corporal punishment is not to be permitted under any circumstances.”
What about the beatings resulting in stitches which residents of Monroe County have reportedly received for having done nothing wrong?
Section 41-4-115 of the TCA states:
(a) The county legislative bodies alone have the power, and it is their duty, to provide medical attendance for all prisoners confined in the jail in their respective counties.
What about Mr. Jacobs, who had been urinating blood for weeks before he was taken to the hospital from the Monroe County jail?
TCA Section 41-4-101 states:
The sheriff of the county has, except in cases otherwise provided by law, the custody and charge of the jail of the county and of all prisoners committed to the jail and may appoint a jailer, for whose acts the sheriff is civilly responsible.
Does that mean that Sheriff Bill Bivens is responsible for the beatings and taserings which Officer and “Chief Jailer” Trent Prock, whose photo has been removed from the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department website recently, is accused of inflicting on innocent persons? If so, at what point does Bivens, who has apparently allowed such brutality on the part of his deputies to continue unchecked, become a criminal? Is Bivens even aware of Tennessee law regarding his responsibilities? Does he care?
More important, will the Tennessee Corrections Institute fulfill its promise and pay Sheriff Bivens a visit?
Sharon Rondeau has operated The Post & Email since April 2010, focusing on the Obama birth certificate investigation and other government corruption news. She has reported prolifically on constitutional violations within Tennessee’s prison and judicial systems.