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“THE OUTCRY IS VERY REAL”
by Sharon Rondeau
(Aug. 26, 2015) — A Tennessee legislative subcommittee will meet on Thursday at 10:00 a.m. CDT at the Capitol, Legislative Plaza, Nashville to discuss complaints from corrections officers stemming from a scheduling change which took effect last year blamed for poor morale, a significant number of resignations, fatigue on the job, and increased safety concerns.
Like most state legislatures at this time of year, the Tennessee General Assembly is out of session but has convened the hearing as a result of a severe shortage in corrections officers at the state’s 13 prisons and the reported dangerous conditions under which they are working.
While the hearing was reported by some Tennessee mainstream media earlier this month, The Post & Email learned of it from NWCX inmate Bryant K. Lewis, who has shared his concern for corrections officers’ safety as well as his own assault at the hands of prison gang members who are reportedly not segregated from the general population.
Housed at the same facility as Walter Francis Fitzpatrick, III in northwest Tennessee, Lewis has sent The Post & Email several letters over the past two months detailing his observations of the deteriorating security situation not only at NWCX, but all Tennessee state prisons currently.
In one of Fitzpatrick’s recent letters, he stated that the reality of the dangerous and volatile prison conditions at NWCX has been suppressed by Warden Mike Parris.
Lewis has also written to the U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, describing the gang violence at NWCX as “out of control.” His latest letter identifies Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and two other lawmakers as being appropriate recipients of the “evidence” of the troubled prison system. “The outcry is very real,” Lewis said of the current crisis.
The Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC)’s Commissioner, Derrick Schofield, denies that the state’s prisons have become less safe since the change which now requires corrections officers to work 171 hours over a 28-day period to begin earning time-and-a-half pay.
On August 12, approximately ten corrections officers traveled to Nashville to express their frustration to lawmakers with the new schedule and working conditions. One identified Schofield as the root of the problem.
The Nashville Scene’s August 11 report that Tennessee state prisons are virtually full at 98% capacity is consistent with several TDOC’s monthly reports from earlier this year.
Last week, Lewis provided documentation showing that the reason several inmates were taken to major medical centers as a result of an outbreak of gang activity on July 24 was noted as “illness” rather than injury. Eight men were reported to have been rushed to the hospital, some with life-threatening injuries. While the TDOC reportedly denied it in a press release, a lockdown was also imposed at the West Tennessee State Penitentiary (WTSP) because of an attack occurring there on July 24.
NWCX has been on “lockdown” since the incident which Lewis claims is now a result of pressure placed on Parris by “bitter and hostile inmates.”
The Tennesseean reported that since Schofield became commissioner in 2011, “the number of executives within the Tennessee Department of Correction has grown and their salaries have swelled.”
The Post & Email has received an unconfirmed report that Schofield is expected to resign.
In a letter received on Monday, Lewis shared that he has been imprisoned for a quarter-century and has observed “numerous individuals lose their lives from these violent attacks.” Lewis believes that inmates, particularly those who have been victimized, should be consulted about the problem of gang violence. “Who else is more eligible to be a witness for what is happening inside this prison?” he asked in regard to curing the safety hazards he believes are caused by the failure of prison management to segregate gang members from the rest of the population. “If these politicians want real answers they should ask the real individuals who suffer at the hands of these gangs,” Lewis wrote on page 2.
In a previous writing, Lewis stated that he expected to be released within several months.