by Sharon Rondeau

(Jan. 25, 2017) — On Sunday, the Knoxville News Sentinel published a guest editorial by Harley Lappin, Chief Corrections Officer and Executive Vice President of CoreCivic, a private prison operator based in Nashville.

In his column, Lappin defended the company’s record of reportedly lowering costs and increasing efficiency while providing safe and secure environments to inmates in a number of states, including Tennessee.

“…in Tennessee, prisons and jails across our state are over capacity. Solutions like our new Trousdale Turner Correctional Facility provide a way to safely and appropriately house inmates and get them the type of educational, vocational and faith-based programming that we know helps prepare them for success after prison,” Lappin wrote.

In sharp contrast, several times a week, The Post & Email receives letters from inmates at the referenced Trousdale facility (TTCC) which express an increasingly desperate tone, including one published on Tuesday in which an inmate suffered a heart attack but was allegedly told by medical staff that he was “faking.” Medical help was therefore delayed.  The inmate reported that after reaching the hospital, a stent was put in to open the blockage found in his left ventricle.

The same inmate reported that earlier this month, he reported having been a victim of sexual assault to several employees who he said “laughed” or responded with, “I can’t help you.”

The Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC) states of the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) of 2003:

It is the policy of the TDOC to provide a safe, humane and secure environment free from threat of sexual abuse for all offenders in custody by maintaining a program of prevention, detection, response, investigation and tracking of all alleged sexual abuse. TDOC has a zero tolerance policy for incidences of sexual abuse within its facilities.

According to TDOC Communications Director Neysa Taylor, a TDOC monitor is posted at TTCC on a “daily” basis and the reports we receive from both inmates and their relatives about conditions at the facility and others are “inaccurate.”

The inmate who suffered the heart attack is not the first TTCC resident to report having been left in a shower stall overnight or longer.  In his letter, he said he concluded that “TTCC had no remorse for human life.” [sic]

“I’ve tried everthing from grievances to writing the Warden nothing works here at TTCC,” he added.

CoreCivic was formerly known as Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and recently laid off approximately 50 staff members in its Nashville headquarters after the U.S. Department of Justice announced that it would not renew contracts with private prison companies to include CCA.  The DOJ’s decision affected only privately-run federal prisons and was based on findings published in a report indicating that privately-run facilities were no safer, and in fact, perhaps less safe, than those operated by the government.

In a comparison of three private prison operators included in the study, page 21 of the 86-page report states, in part:

Although Tennessee law proscribes more than one privately-held prison in the state, CoreCivic operates four plus several “re-entry” facilities.

Some of the letters we receive are short but cite a considerable number of concerns, including uncontrolled gang activity and violence.

The following letter is of that ilk, consisting of slightly over one handwritten page.  The single-paragraph style, the inmate reported an inability to obtain medical attention for a potentially serious condition and two stabbings followed by a lockdown “cause they didn’t have enough staff to run the pods.”

“Why should we have to suffer because of the management inability to hire someone,” he wrote.  He also reiterated the frequent complaint that inmates reportedly go without prescribed medications for “months.”

“This place should be running smoothly by now it has been opened over a year now and they still haven’t got a handle on things yet,” he wrote. He abruptly ended his missive with, “Thank you for your time.”

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