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IS IT ABOUT THE MONEY AFTER ALL?
by Sharon Rondeau
(Jun. 22, 2016) — The Post & Email is in possession of a contractual agreement between Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and Trousdale County, TN for the construction and operation of the prison now known as the Trousdale Turner Correctional Center (TTCC) in Hartsville.
Beginning in early May, The Post & Email began receiving frequent letters from inmates at the facility, which had just opened January 6, stating that they were kept in a virtually-continuous state of lockdown as a result of severe understaffing.
Problems cited by the Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC) just two months after its opening include excessive use of force by an officer against an inmate, inaccurate head-counting methods, and that “the guards were not in control of the housing units.”
“Recruiting and staffing issues” were reported at TTCC by Channel 2 in Nashville on May 25 as well as the existence of a Facebook page run by an inmate apparently with a contraband cell phone.
On Tuesday evening, The Post & Email conducted an interview with the mother of an inmate relocated to Hartsville from another Tennessee prison this past spring who told us, “They don’t have prison guards anymore. The guards have quit, and they have hired an outside security company to come in.”
The agreement between CCA and Trousdale County, established in April 2014, resulted from a letter written by then-Hartsville/Trousdale County Mayor Jakie West to then-TDOC Commissioner Derrick Schofield in which West asked Schofield to approve the claimed “economic development opportunity” which the building of a prison would provide. “We believe a correctional facility on this site is a timely and appropriate economic benefit for the State and offers the Department benefits that are unique to this particular location,” West wrote on July 23, 2013.
In response, Schofield wrote that “It is the Department’s intent to move forward in a partnership with Trousdale County to meet the State’s anticipated bed demand for felony offenders in the next few years.” “We look forward to working with Trousdale County on this mutually beneficial partnership for the State and the County,” Schofield wrote in his final paragraph.
Early this month, Schofield tendered his resignation to become vice president of the division of The GEO Group, an international private prison corporation.
On Tuesday the inmate’s mother told us that when her son and others were moved to Hartsville, they were promised they would have jobs equivalent to those which they left behind at their former facility. However, “there are no jobs,” she said.
She also reported that the CCA staff originally working at the facility were treated “just as bad as the inmates.”
CCA has not been reachable by phone and has not responded to email requests for comment from The Post & Email over the last five weeks. Two reports of inmates’ fearing for their lives and asking for protective custody (PC) have been made to this publication. In both examples, the inmates reportedly received disciplinary write-ups for “Defiance,” with one sentence to “the Hole,” another disciplinary measure.
Within several months of inmate Walter Francis Fitzpatrick, III’s imprisonment in August 2014 on convictions of extortion and aggravated perjury or attempting to gain a hearing with his county grand jury to discuss the local government corruption, he began describing in frequent letters a “prisoners-for-profit” scheme involving educational courses in which inmates were enrolled whether or not they met the criteria and the prison received taxpayer dollars in return.
A number of other inmates agree that Tennessee’s prison industry is a for-profit operation and that sentences which should have been completed based on written agreements continue to be served behind bars.
By state law, Tennessee is allowed one privately-operated prison; however, CCA operates four within the state and has its headquarters in Nashville.