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INMATE, VISITOR REPORTS TO THE POST & EMAIL CORROBORATED BY NATIONAL NEWS OUTLET
by Sharon Rondeau
(May 25, 2016) — An article written by the Associated Press published in The New York Times on Tuesday afternoon corroborates the accounts of a number of inmates’ relatives as well as an inmate concerning short-staffing at the Trousdale Turner Correctional Center (TTCC) located in Hartsville, Trousdale County, TN.
The article, titled “Tennessee’s New Prison Stops Taking Inmates,” reports that “State corrections officials and the private prisons operator Corrections Corporation of America confirmed to the AP that the Trousdale Turner Correctional Center halted new admissions two weeks ago, leaving the 2500-inmate prison about two-thirds full” with the explanation that “We’re holding off on sending more prisoners until CCA has an opportunity to increase its recruiting efforts and staffing.”
Prior to becoming aware of the article on Wednesday morning, The Post & Email contacted Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC) Communications Director Neysa Taylor to convey the observations it has received over the last several weeks regarding inadequate staffing resulting in unwarranted solitary confinement and other concerns at TTCC. As of press time, we have not received a response.
The AP reported that in regard to the Trousdale facility, “the private company refused to provide any records about staffing levels at the prison…CCA said doing so would compromise security.”
After initially communicating with us, CCA spokesman Jonathan Burns failed to respond to a list of questions The Post & Email submitted regarding the facility last week.
Observers who have visited TTCC since it opened in January told The Post & Email that severe understaffing is affecting their loved ones’ treatment, including of health conditions, their ability to visit during scheduled visitation hours, and limiting inmates to solitary confinement when it is unwarranted. Bridget Thweatt, who also spoke to WSMV in Nashville, told us that while educational and vocational instruction is said to be offered at the facility, “there is no one to teach them,” a statement supported by the jobs board at CCA for the Hartsville location.
Thweatt’s husband has since been relocated to another Tennessee CCA-run prison in Whiteville, which she believes occurred out of “retaliation.”
The AP also reported that although a private entity, CCA is subject to the Tennessee Open Records Act, through which the news agency obtained documentation that “the guards were not in control of the housing units, were not counting inmates correctly and were putting inmates in solitary confinement for no documented reason.” The condition of solitary confinement for 23 hours daily was imported to The Post & Email first by the inmate in a series of six letters this month, and, more recently, by several inmates’ wives and other concerned individuals.
The inmate also related that it appeared to him that men were being relocated to Hartsville in order to fulfill the state’s contract with CCA.
As The Post & Email does not have an address in Tennessee, it has routinely been denied documents through the Open Records Act resulting from the wording that “any citizen of this state” may obtain public records.
According to the AP, Burns said that understaffing is not an issue at TTCC. Nevertheless, CCA’s website enumerates 14 open positions at the Hartsville institution as of this writing.
In an AP report dated May 23, 2016 in The Idaho Statesman, a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a federal court’s contempt-of-court ruling against CCA, thereby imposing the remuneration of higher-than-average attorneys’ fees to the ACLU, which represented inmates housed at a CCA facility there. The inmates alleged “rampant violence and other problems at the prison south of Boise.”
The lower court’s ruling, upheld by the Ninth Circuit, had found CCA to have been in contempt of court “for falsifying staffing reports.”
One year ago, it was reported by the AP and Boise Public Radio that “The U.S. Justice Department has declined to press criminal charges in connection with a contract fraud investigation at a private Idaho prison” run by CCA. “The facility…was known for being so violent that inmates dubbed it ‘Gladiator School,'” the AP wrote.
While no criminal charges were brought against CCA or any other party, the civil lawsuit filed by the ACLU resulted in Monday’s decision by the Ninth Circuit, on which the AP’s New York Times story also reported.