TDOC Commissioner Denies Inmate’s Appeal of Disciplinary Write-Up Stemming from Forced Class Participation

APPEALS TO TENNESSEE GOVERNOR BILL HASLAM

by Sharon Rondeau

TDOC Commissioner Derrick Schofield denied an appeal from Jerome Johnson of a “Class ‘A'” Write-Up for his refusal to participate in the Pro-Social Life Skills class. Johnson has appealed the denial to Gov. Bill Haslam.

(Oct. 2, 2015) — Beginning in late May, Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC) inmate Walter Francis Fitzpatrick informed The Post & Email that he was pressured to participate in the Pro-Social Life Skills (PSLS) class taught by a Mr. Terry Hopper at the Northwest Correctional Complex (NWCX) located in Tiptonville.

Fitzpatrick declined to participate as a result of his perception that completing the required workbook exercises would have caused him to incriminate himself.

The Post & Email possesses five workbooks utilized in the PSLS class. While each page is marked with a copyright infringement notice, we have provided examples of some of the page headings and exercises required by class participants. Based on the workbooks’ content, it is reasonable to conclude that those making use of its materials have been involved in drug abuse and concomitant criminal activity.

Neither Fitzpatrick nor Johnson is incarcerated for drug or alcohol abuse or related crimes.

Fitzpatrick has described as part of a “prisoners-for-profit” operation garnering taxpayer dollars for each inmate enrolled.

For having refused to take part, Fitzpatrick received a “Class ‘A’ Write-up” and was threatened with physical harm by Hopper on June 19. The disciplinary write-up was dropped after Fitzpatrick was moved out of the guild where the Pro-Social Life Skills class is taught, briefly revived, and then abandoned.

Following Fitzpatrick’s relocation to the new guild, he was enrolled against his will in Adult Basic Education (ABE) despite his attainment of a Master’s degree in 2002.  The purpose of ABE is to prepare a person who has not graduated from high school to take a preliminary state achievement test and then the GED exam.

Earlier this week, The Post & Email received a letter from Fitzpatrick indicating that late last month, Jobs Coordinator Ruth Long and Hopper once again attempted to enlist his participation in the Pro-Social Life Skills program.

The “Administrative Policies and Procedures” booklet approved by Schofield on March 15, 2015 states that any inmate older than 62 or who would be eligible for disability benefits upon discharge from prison is exempt from ABE upon request.  When Fitzpatrick requested to be released on both counts, prison staff stonewalled, stating that they had not received proof of his high school education and otherwise ignoring the status-request forms Fitzpatrick completed.

Fitzpatrick’s signature was not requested on the release of information form for his high school, and Fitzpatrick suspects that it was never dispatched to its purported destination.  Fitzpatrick has reported that the ABE class, like the PSLS class, renders profits for each inmate enrolled.

While the prison remained on partial lockdown after a gang uprising on July 24, Fitzpatrick was quietly dropped from ABE, although he did not discover it until later.

NWCX has been noted to be one of the most dangerous prisons in the state.

In July, inmate Jerome L. Johnson similarly refused to participate in the PSLS class. However, Johnson received the same Class “A” write-up as Fitzpatrick which has not been dismissed. Johnson’s appeals to Warden Mike Parris and TDOC Commissioner Derrick Schofield have both been denied, and the disciplinary punishment, which consists of ten days in “the Hole,” a $5.00 fine, a year without the privileges Johnson had earned, and the loss of his job in the prison kitchen, were upheld.

Johnson is black and Fitzpatrick is white; hence, Johnson suspects he is the object of racial discrimination.  As a result, he filed a Title VI civil rights complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice’s Federal Coordination and Compliance Division.  According to a memorandum issued by then-Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez, citing Executive Order 12250, “DOJ is charged with ensuring the consistent and effective implementation of Title VI and other civil rights laws ‘prohibiting discriminatory practices in Federal programs and programs receiving Federal financial assistance.'”

To the best of The Post & Email’s knowledge, Johnson has received no response from the Department of Justice.

Johnson has appealed Schofield’s decision on the disciplinary write-up to Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam.

Both Fitzpatrick and Johnson recently completed Form 3586, which purportedly allows an inmate to refuse educational classes but which Fitzpatrick reported Ruth Long and Hopper have refused to accept.

According to the TDOC Administrative Procedures manual, an inmate may decline to participate in classes, but the Pro-Social Life Skills class “is not voluntary.”  However, Fitzpatrick was deemed to be unsuited for the class during his intake process in September of last year, and Johnson reported that he was never evaluated for any educational classes during his three years in prison.

On August 30, The Post & Email wrote to Haslam to inform him of the prisoners-for-profit scheme operating at NWCX but has received no response.  We also notified four Tennessee state senators who held a hearing on August 27 concerning violence, short-staffing and low morale within the TDOC system.  We received no response from the state senators.

Johnson’s Title VI complaint is as follows:

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