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INMATE LETTERS BELIE REPORTED CONCLUSION OF “SMOOTHLY OPERATING” PRISON SYSTEM
by Sharon Rondeau
(Jan. 30, 2016) — In September, the American Correctional Association (ACA) conducted a three-day review of five Tennessee state prisons which reportedly produced the conclusion that the Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC) had in place a system which is “smoothly operating.”
However, dozens of letters received by The Post & Email beginning last spring tell a different story, including another received on Friday.
On October 8, 2015, the Nashville Scene reported that even before the ACA inspections were conducted, “State legislators questioned that decision and the validity of the review even before its release because TDOC’s Commissioner Derrick Schofield is on ACA’s standards committee and the department already pays ACA for its regular accreditation process.”
Gang violence, unjustified staff retaliation against inmates, staff and inmate injuries, poor medical care, and now black mold in the walls have been reported specifically at the Northwest Correctional Complex (NWCX) in Tiptonville near the Missouri state line, although similar conditions have also been reported at other facilities.
Two prisoners with whom The Post & Email has been in contact for a number of months have recently been “written up” and placed into what they describe as very dangerous situations as a result. One, Jerome Johnson, received a write-up for refusing to take the “Pro-Social Life Skills” class which he is now told is “not mandatory,” despite the TDOC Administrative manual’s statement to the contrary. Approximately six weeks ago, Johnson was moved to NWCX’s “Site 1,” which is designated as “medium security” but houses the most dangerous prisoners, many of whom are members of well-known street gangs.
Another inmate received a write-up for “RFA,” or “refusing cell assignment,” although he reportedly asked to be moved after his cellmate at the time posed a physical threat to him. He now reports retaliatory actions are increasing and that grievances remain unaddressed, including the danger he perceives after having been moved to Site 1.
On July 24 of last year, a gang uprising at Site 1 resulted in at least eight inmate hospitalizations but many more injuries which were not reported by the press, according to more than one inmate’s account to The Post & Email.
Last summer, several hearings were convened by subcommittees of the Tennessee legislature, several of whose members directed their ire at TDOC Commissioner Derrick Schofield. However, Gov. Bill Haslam has stood behind Schofield, even as the increasing danger to correction officers has resulted in a number of injuries, a mass exodus of employees, and possibly several deaths.
Neither Haslam, Parris, Schofield or his staff has responded to letters from The Post & Email concerning the forced participation of prisoners in the Pro-Social Life Skills class; the unconstitutional incarceration of citizens without due process after being indicted by illegally-formed grand juries; or the confiscation of mail and postage stamps sent from The Post & Email to inmate Walter Francis Fitzpatrick, III in a rapidly-escalating situation in which Fitzpatrick’s cell is regularly raided by correction officers.
The letter received Friday details new problems intertwined with increasing retaliation against Fitzpatrick, from whom a letter was also received indicating deteriorating circumstances.