Tennessee Prison System Reaches National Spotlight

WILL PRISON CONDITIONS IMPROVE OR WORSEN WITH SCHOFIELD’S IMMINENT DEPARTURE?

by Sharon Rondeau

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam is serving his second term and takes responsibility for making his state “a national leader in education, job creation and fiscal responsibility.”

(Jun. 9, 2016) — In a lengthy and detailed report published on Thursday by NBC News in its “U.S. News” section, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam was quoted in his praise of Department of Correction head Derrick Schofield, who tendered his resignation last week and will work his last day on June 20.

“Tennessee has been extremely fortunate to have someone of Derrick’s caliber as commissioner of the Department of Correction,” Haslam said. “I am personally grateful for Derrick’s professional approach and personal integrity as he worked to reduce recidivism, improve offender outcomes and assure a safe and secure environment in our corrections system,” Haslam wrote on his website on June 1, a statement quoted by NBC.

Schofield, who previously worked as an assistant commissioner at the Georgia Department of Correction, was appointed to his post as TDOC Commissioner in January 2011 and oversaw a number of changes expected to save money and operate the state prison system more efficiently. However, persistent and systemic problems remain, and, according to many, have worsened during Schofield’s tenure.

As The Post & Email and other outlets have been reporting, the state’s prisons are rife with gang violence, injuries to both inmates and correction officers, use of excessive force against inmates, and understaffing, particularly after Schofield changed the way in which overtime pay was accrued by correction officers in August 2014.

Last summer, following legislative subcommittee hearings during which current and former prison employees testified to their dissatisfaction and the dangerous conditions caused by short-staffing, Schofield was resolute regarding the changes he had ordered even as a mass exodus of correction officers continued throughout the state.

In its comprehensive piece, NBC reported systemic violence at the West Tennessee State Penitentiary (WTSP) and Trousdale Turner Correctional Complex (TTCC), in particular, including long lockdown periods and a failure to document violent events.

For the last three weeks, since The Post & Email became aware of the substandard conditions at TTCC, it has received more than a dozen letters from inmates now residing there recounting an inability to shower regularly; a lack of employment opportunities; irregular dispensing of medications and diabetics leaving the facility “on stretchers” from a lack of insulin; severe understaffing, poor quality food, and solitary confinement without provocation.

NBC quoted Haslam as standing by Schofield even as he prepares to make his departure to become an officer at The GEO Group, a global prison initiative which is the second-largest private prison company in the United States.

TTCC is run by the private corporation Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), which is the largest private prison contractor in the country, operating 70 facilities across the country.

NBC’s report includes quotes from Bridget Thweatt, whose husband, James, spent time at TTCC but was moved to another prison approximately two weeks ago. James was quoted by his wife as having said that the state-run prison in which he was housed prior to being moved to TTCC was “a walk in the park.”

Earlier on Thursday, Ms. Thweatt told The Post & Email, “I thought they did a good job on the article.”

We have been told that the TDOC orchestrated the transfer of inmates from state-operated prisons to the Trousdale facility beginning January 6 despite being ill-prepared to care for them with its low staffing levels.  In addition to the medical deficiencies in enumerated above, nine inmate deaths have also been reported by this publication only.

On Thursday evening, a relative of an inmate at TTCC reported that her loved one was physically threatened and that she has been unable to obtain information as to his safety despite spending hours on the phone with staffers and on hold.  She left a message for TDOC Correctional Administrator Tony Howerton, who in March documented enough deficiencies at the institution to cause it to stop taking new prisoners.

In keeping with the many inmate and visitor reports The Post & Email has received, NBC reported, “Two employees said basic operations like counting inmates and feeding meals took hours because staffers were poorly prepared, and overwhelmed by the buses of 150 prisoners who arrived each week as the prison came online. Men would be locked down so long they missed scheduled administration of heart pills and diabetic insulin, said former employees and family.”

Despite the persistent problems and dangerous circumstances, CCA spokesman Jonathan Burns, who declined to answer The Post & Email’s questions last month, reportedly told NBC that “We take the recruitment and hiring of qualified professionals very seriously, and the facility is currently staffed at safe and appropriate levels.”

Many prison inmates suffer from untreated mental illness and other ailments not readily manageable in a prison setting.

Of his tenure as commissioner, Schofield told NBC that “there is nothing I would have done differently.”

As The Post & Email has reported, Tennessee is one of the worst states for public corruption, occupying either first or third place, depending on the survey.  Methamphetamine production and sales are a significant problem in the state, as is the judicially-commandeered grand juries, intended by the Fifth Amendment to act as a buffer between government prosecutors and citizens.

4 Responses to "Tennessee Prison System Reaches National Spotlight"

  1. Family1   Thursday, June 16, 2016 at 7:54 AM

    One of the (many) things that continue to evidence the lack of basic procedures at TTCC – Mail, Grievance, and Medical – Boxes for inmates to use. There is only one box / receptacle in the pods and it is only for Commissary forms to be submitted. There is NO box for MEDICAL request forms, there is no box for GRIEVANCE of forms and there is NO OUTGOING MAIL BOX for the inmates. Due to this – the inmates were placing all forms in the one available box – so everything from grievance forms, medical requests, and mail, were all going into the only thing they have had access to – the commissary box. Recently inmates were told that they can no longer put anything except commissary forms in the commissary box – yet nothing has been provided for them to to convey the other forms. An inmate explained this to me yesterday, “we have to hope that a guard is willing to take our mail, or our forms – and it really depends on whether the guard likes you or not – you never know what is happening with the things you send through – a lot of mail isn’t getting out, family of inmates are not getting mail sent, forms aren’t being delivered”. During a visit to the nurse for daily medication – the inmates have asked the nurses if they can give them their medical request forms directly and are told “No” – nurses can’t accept them. The outgoing mail box and other boxes are out in route to the chow hall – so logically the inmates are expected to deliver their forms/mail during multiple chow hall visits daily – EXCEPT they are NOT being taken to the chow hall – they are being fed cold food delivered to their units. As reported a few days ago to The Post & Email – 50 to 100 grievance forms were being found on a regular basis – in the trash. Inmates have no voice and no process to rely on – including requesting medical care.
    ——— Mail – and access to the law library. There is no access to the law library; inmates at TTCC have been on lockdown and restricted to their units. Any inmate with pending legal cases has no access to the law library and also cannot send mail in a timely or reliable fashion – this in itself can cause a delay that could prove highly detrimental to the inmate.
    ——- Nothing at TTCC is being managed under any sort of established procedure – which begs the question – how can this be so mismanaged when CCA is the largest private prison corporation in the United States? This is not the first prison they have opened or are managing – so how can such blatant disregard for inmates’ rights continue to go on?

  2. Joe Mayer   Wednesday, June 15, 2016 at 8:33 AM

    Haslam is scum in the Republican good ole’ boy ranks surrounded by DNC thugs and murderers who covered up the murder of Republican Commissioner Jim Miller in Monroe County by LEO’s and the now “retired” “Police Chief” who gave the orders for the murder. They also covered up the illegal arrest and incarceration of Darren Huff and Walter Fitzpatrick, both Navy Veterans, who tried to serve Criminal Presentments peacefully and who exposed a completely corrupted Court House/Grand Jury/Police Department/Attorney General/Court House Employees and others in a town scam run by DNC murderers and thug operatives that will stop at nothing. Hopefully investigations will commence shortly as with Obama and all the Muslim Operatives like Valerie Jarrett who is a Syrian Muslim that gives orders to Obama along with Hillary.

  3. Jeffrey Harrison   Friday, June 10, 2016 at 4:55 PM

    Thanks to the Post & Email for covering this topic and for
    being a bulldog. We have lots of citizens going to jail,
    this is a problem and costs our society in many ways.

    Mr. Obama had stated, “we are not Christian nation anymore”.
    As a result of this, this crime spree is what we reap.

    I think jail times are too long, and once a person is free,
    they are black-balled in finding work, and continue in
    crime… The solutions here are not simple.

    This story of the prison system needed to be done to expose
    the poor treatment to prisoners. Perhaps, / indeed for
    profit prisons should be eradicated.

  4. Kathy Snodderly   Thursday, June 9, 2016 at 11:48 PM

    My name is Kathy Snodderly, I live in Knoxville, TN. My grandson is in Trousdale Turner, he was one of the first 500 to enter the facility in January. I applied for visitation in February, when it is approved they are to inform the inmate. He was never notified, after making several calls to the facility and speaking to several very rude people I finally reached someone who told me that I had been approved. I made my first visit June the 4th. After driving 2 1/2 hours when I arrived I was told there was a 2 hour wait. I waited 3 hours that put me getting back to visiting area at 5pm. Once in the visiting area my grandson had not been notified and I had to wait another 45 minutes. I had 1 hour 15 minute visit. My grandson is minimal security with no strikes. The way I understand he should already be in a annex. He has a total of 3 recreational period of going outside. Talking to some of the other visitors I was told that the meat that come into the facility has a label that says “NOT FOR HUMAN COMSUMPTION”. All meals are served from this same meat.
    The way I understand it the tensions are very high at the facility.

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