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by Sharon Rondeau

Photo of an unidentified Tennessee prison from the TDOC’s website

(Oct. 8, 2015) — Following a request for an external audit of Tennessee’s prison system by Department of Corrections Commissioner Derrick Schofield, the American Correctional Assocation (ACA) reportedly found that while a new system to figure overtime pay for corrections officers was troublesome and assaults could be classified using a new method, the prisons are “smoothly operating.”

The statement flies in the face of first-hand accounts from inmates received by The Post & Email over the last several months which indicate a high degree of physical threat to both inmates and corrections staff from gang members who are housed with the general population.

Also exposed is forced participation in unnecessary classes to profit individual prisons with taxpayer-funded payouts.

In late August, an inmate provided proof that inmate-on-inmate assaults in July resulting in hospitalization were classified as “illness” rather than “injury.”  The same inmate expressed extreme concern for the corrections officers at the Northwest Correctional Complex (NWCX), known to be one of Tennessee’s most dangerous facilities.

Inmate Walter Francis Fitzpatrick, III reported that after a July 24 gang fight at “The Thunderdome,” known as “Site 1” at NWCX, the entire prison was placed on “lockdown” for over a month, with his building, Site 2, remaining in “partial lockdown” until just a few weeks ago.  In a letter received in August, Fitzpatrick described NWCX Warden Mike Parris as “working in a panic” to shroud the true conditions at the prison from public scrutiny.

Fitzpatrick and other inmates have described a scheme whereby inmates are enrolled in the Pro-Social Life Skills Program and Adult Basic Education class inappropriately and under duress in order to garner thousands of taxpayer dollars for the facility.

The Post & Email has reported the practice to Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and four state senators with accompanying documentation and received no response.

In August, ten corrections officers took a day off from work to testify to a legislative subcommittee about what they alleged are poor working conditions resulting from short-staffing, an increasing number of assaults from inmates, and poor morale.

After inspecting five prisons in three days, according to the Nashville Scene, ACA inspector Richard Stalder recommended “a 14-day work cycle that would ensure employees got their overtime pay quicker and give them more opportunities for off time on weekends” instead of the 28-day time frame currently required before an officer can begin receiving overtime pay.

The 28-day cycle was instituted by Schofield last year and has been alleged to be the cause of more than 300 corrections officers tendering their resignations across the state since that time.

Stalder once headed the Department of Corrections in Louisiana, which is known as the “prison capital of the world,” according to KTBS and the Times-Picayune newspaper.

On September 21, The Tennessean asked why the upcoming inspection by the ACA of Tennessee’s prisons would not present the same conflict of interest cited in an inspection of the Suffolk County, MA Sheriff’s Department in 2001.

Schofield is a member of the ACA.

According to The Tennessean, one state lawmaker opined that “Everything we see about these visits suggests that they are nothing but a sham; they are a rubber stamp for business as usual. The purpose of this investigation is to have an investigation. It is not to actually get to the bottom of what is actually going on.”

The same lawmaker, Mike Stewart (D-Nashville), preferred that the audit have been conducted by the National Institute of Corrections rather than the ACA.

The ACA was paid approximately $8,000 in Tennessee taxpayer money to perform the audit.

On Monday, The Daily Post-Athenian published an article quoting former Tennessee prison warden Jerry Lester, who said at a press conference last Friday that the state’s prisons are becoming more violent because of the reclassification of maximum-security prisoners to medium-security.  As a result, Lester characterized Tennessee’s prisons as currently “unmanageable.”

DPA Jerry Lester article 10-05-15

According to the DPA, a response to Lester’s remarks from the TDOC claimed that “some maximum security prisoners were there for nonviolent offenses, and there were racial disparities affecting who was classified as a maximum security inmate.”

In a letter dated September 24, 2015 from long-time NWCX inmate Bryant K. Lewis, Lewis described a situation wherein a black inmate was moved to a cell occupied by an inmate who is a member of the Aryan Nation.  When the latter refused to “cell with a black man,” the corrections officer, according to Lewis, initially advised him to put aside his “hatred” and adhere to prison rules.

However, Lewis reported that three hours later, the black man was moved to a different cell so as to placate the Aryan Nation inmate and avoid a confrontation.

In a joint University of Hong Kong/Indiana University study published last year, Tennessee was determined to be third in the nation for public corruption.  The Post & Email’s six years of reporting on Tennessee’s courts, grand juries, trial juries, and records maintenance has shown that “evidence” against an accused is frequently invented; district attorneys general are dishonest and vindictive; judges routinely violate the law by hand-picking the grand jury foreman, who then does the judge’s bidding; and court clerks and transcriptionists refuse to release official transcripts in both audio and typewritten format in violation of Tennessee’s Public Records Act.

A Washington State attorney who once represented Fitzpatrick in his quest to expose the long-standing, hand-picked Tennessee grand jury foremen described the state’s judicial system as “hopelessly corrupted.”

The local press has appeared unwilling to expose the entrenched corruption which has supplied enough inmates to maintain the state prisons at full or virtually-full capacity.

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