REQUESTS INVESTIGATION OF LIVING CONDITIONS
by Sharon Rondeau
The OJP’s current Strategic Plan states the agency’s goal to be “safe, just, and engaged communities.” “We believe that personal safety and fair, equal protection are necessary conditions for community well-being and a secure, productive America. To work toward this goal, we are exploring new and more effective policies and programs to support the fair, equal and impartial administration of justice and enhance our approaches to criminal and juvenile justice at the federal, state, local, and tribal levels. We are also strengthening our support for law enforcement, juvenile justice reforms and victim services,” its first paragraph reads.
Although multiple inmates at Tennessee’s newest facility have reported the law library to be virtually inaccessible, Johnson appears to have completed extensive legal research to write the complaint in which he cites state fire and building codes, TDOC Administrative Policies and Procedures, constitutional amendments, Tennessee case law and federal Title VI, a subset of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
TTCC is owned and operated by the private corporation CoreCivic and has been open since January 2016. In June 2017, Nashville station WSMV presented a four-part series on reported conditions at the facility to include questionable medical protocols, rampant gang activity, stabbings and drug overdoses, short-staffing and alleged retaliation against the prison chaplain, who had worked in other CoreCivic facilities previously.
Although CoreCivic took issue with the broadcasts and questioned the reporter’s integrity, the written reports were not removed from the station’s website.
One of CoreCivic’s Topic Archives is titled, “Keeping People Safe.” The corporation has declined to provide a statement to this publication by email, phone or letter.
Also of concern, Johnson wrote, are actions taken by correction officers which he said place inmates in unnecessary danger. Numerous inmates have related similar observations to this publication over the last two years.
Copies of Johnson’s complaint were sent to the state Administrative Fire Services director, the state codes enforcement director, a director of the Fire Fighting Commission, and a Deputy Commissioner of the Administration on Fire Prevention, all located in Nashville. On the cover page, he indicated that he submitted the report under “declaration of oath.”
On page 3, Johnson quoted from the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance’s Division of Fire Prevention, although using what appears to be an outdated set of “minimum standards” for fire protection and “building construction safety.”
He also cited, in the same chapter on fire prevention, “Chapter 0780-02-02-05,” which governs “local ordinances.” The wording Johnson presented is slightly different from the revised 2016 rules.
On page 2, Johnson referenced Tennessee Code Annotated Title 13, subtitled “Public Planning and Housing,” in which he included his current environment: “…prison cells at the Trousdale turner correctional Center are rendered unfit for habitation, due to dilapidated malfunctioning locking mechanisms on the cells entrance/exit door.” [sic]
He further expounded on what he said are “defective locks and locking mechanisms” on page 5.
On pp. 3-4, Johnson cited § TCA 13-21-102 as it appears in the Lexis-Nexis 2018 Tennessee Code.
On page 6, Johnson stated that Trousdale inmates “are not wards of Core Civic,” a fact confirmed by TDOC spokeswoman Neysa Taylor nearly two years ago wherein she said that the TDOC maintains “daily” oversight of the state’s privately-run prisons.
Further on page 6, Johnson stated that “in the event that an inmate has a serious medical emergency in the cell, thre is absolutely no way for an inmate to notify the unit officer/guard of the medical emergency; this is apprised upon the fact that the Call Buttons are inoperable, as a direct result of faulty wiring, the cells are not able to be opened manually from central control.”
He then cited the 1980 federal case of Grubbs v. Bradley, adjudicated in 1982, which alleged “cruel and unusual punishment” against Tennessee inmates. A partial summary of the case presented by the University of Michigan’s Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse reads:
In August of 1982, the district court (Judge Leland Clure Morton) found that the conditions within Tennessee’s adult penal institutions were unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment and ordered the defendants to establish remedies and submit them to the court. Grubbs v. Bradley, 552 F.Supp. 1052 (M.D.Tenn. 1982). The court found specific facilities–but not all in the system–were inadequate to accommodate a growing prison population, and mandated that the prisons cease double celling in those units. While the court noted significant concern with prison conditions, including serious fire hazards and sanitation issues, it found them constitutionally adequate. Other sanitation issues, such as drinking water sanitation and absence of bedding cleaning procedure, were not found to rise to the level of unconstitutionality. However, the court did find that the constitution did require a level of hygiene in food preparation and kitchen sanitation that the prisons did not meet. The defendants would be required to implement a procedure to ensure basic sanitation practices. Issues of violence were found “endemic” to the system and warranting attention, but also “inevitable” and not unconstitutional. Similarly, it found the healthcare provided to inmates to be constitutionally adequate.
Johnson concluded his narrative on page 7 with a request that the U.S. Justice Department “conduct an investigation into the aforementioned claims as they are listed in great detail and inference concerning the health and safety of the inmates housed at TTCC…”