by Sharon Rondeau

(Nov. 11, 2015) — Enclosed with a November 2 letter from Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC) inmate Bryant K. Lewis on Monday were four prison menus and two October 22 articles from The Tennessean concerning the state’s correctional system, which has come under increased scrutiny over the past several months.

The first article, titled “TN Lawmakers Blast Prison Food Program,” refers not to the diet inmates receive, but to TRICOR, the company which provides oversight of food prepared by and for prisoners, among other services.

The Tennessean’s Dave Boucher reported that the results of an audit completed by the state comptroller, Justin Wilson, were revealed at a legislative hearing on October 21 which admitted “financial problems with TRICOR, an entity staffed primarily by inmates that creates products both for the state and private entities, including prison meals.”

Further, TRICOR Executive Director Patti Weiland reportedly “acknowledge(d) the agency had no contract with the Department of Correction for meals” during the legislative hearing.  Boucher quoted a “stunned” State Senator Kerry Roberts as having told Weiland, “I’m not trying to embarrass you and I’m not trying to criticize you – but this report is completely unacceptable.”

Boucher explained that because there was no TRICOR contract in place, “That led to the department not paying an additional $4 million anticipated by TRICOR, resulting in TRICOR essentially burning through its reserve funds accumulated over 20 years.”

The article can be found online here.

A second article which begins on page 9A, where the first article finishes, is titled, “Prison Chief Concedes Some Mistakes in Incident Reports” and refers to numerous reports over at least the last 18 months claiming that assaults on and between both inmates and correctional staff are improperly classified or not reported at all.

Over the summer, the TDOC was said to be in a state of crisis.

The article begins, “While Tennessee’s prison chief says the state is committed to making its system for reporting violent incidents more effective, he has given no indication of how it would define or report violent incidents differently.”

The “prison chief” of the Tennessee Department of Correction is Derrick Schofield, who has received criticism for the departure of more than 300 correction officers over the last 15 months attributed to his change in how overtime pay is accumulated and remunerated. Some, including an editorialist at The Tennessean, urged Schofield to resign.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has defended Schofield as several Democrat lawmakers have called for Haslam to “come in and conduct an independent investigation not including Commissioner Schofield,” referring to an inspection conducted by the American Correctional Association (ACA) which made suggestions for improvement but reportedly stated that Tennessee’s prisons are “smoothly operating.”

There was a question of a conflict of interest on the part of the ACA prior to its inspections of five Tennessee prisons in three days which took place in September.

Lewis reported in numerous letters over the summer that gang violence within the Northwest Correctional Complex (NWCX) is out of control and a danger to all other inmates. Lewis has also reported having been assaulted by one or more gang members last year.

Enclosed with one of his letters were TDOC documents showing that eight inmates involved in the July 24 gang violence who required hospitalization were said to have incurred an “illness,” not an injury.

Lewis sent additional documentation showing that the original classification of “illness” was altered following a legislative subcommittee hearing on assaults within the prisons held at the end of August.

Also expressed in Lewis’s letters is concern for corrections staff given the highly volatile environment within NWCX and other prisons.

Other inmates at NWCX have corroborated Lewis’s reports, including Walter Francis Fitzpatrick, III, who wrote that NWCX Mike Parris was attempting to stifle any information about the July 24 incident from reaching the press.

Lastly, Lewis referred to an inmate about whom he had written us several weeks ago who reportedly, like many others, is enrolled in the Pro-Social Life Skills (PSLS) program but lacks reading and writing skills, which are required to complete the course through “interactive journaling.”

Fitzpatrick has described the forcing of inmates into the PSLS class as a “prisoners-for-profit” scheme which garners as much as $3,000 per enrollee from the American taxpayer.  The Post & Email has reported the alleged operation to Haslam and the four state senators who held the August 27, 2015 hearing on the TDOC’s staffing shortage and received no response.

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