Category Archives: prisons

Comptroller: Jail inmate got full-time county job

News release from state comptroller’s office
An investigation by the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office has found numerous problems with the way inmate labor was handled within the Marshall County Solid Waste and Sheriff’s Departments. Marshall County allowed jail inmates to work at the county’s solid waste facility in Lewisburg.

Investigators determined the solid waste director hired an incarcerated felon as a full-time county employee at $12.46 per hour. He received the same employee benefits as other county employees including health insurance, retirement, and sick leave. The inmate was paid a total of $12,444.43 by the county.

Comptroller investigators also found that inmates working at the solid waste facility were not properly supervised. This led to workers scavenging and hiding alcohol, drugs, tobacco products, cell phones, weapons, pornography, and other contraband items within the facility. Continue reading

CCA faces lawsuit over menstruation strip searches

By Travis Loller, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Private prison operator Corrections Corporation of America is trying to seal from public view documents in a lawsuit that claim female visitors to a Tennessee prison were forced to undergo strip searches to prove they were menstruating.

Three women have accused the company of violating their rights by forcing them to expose their genitals to guards after they tried to bring sanitary pads or tampons into South Central Correctional Facility, about 85 miles southwest of Nashville. One woman said her three children had to witness the search.

Protective orders in the case allow documents that could pose a security risk to the prison to be filed under seal. Each side is accusing the other of violating those orders. Continue reading

Haslam defends private prison operations

The federal government may be moving to end operation of its prisons by private companies and the Tennessee State Employees Association may be calling for the same at the state level, but Nashville Post Politics reports that Gov. Bill Haslam thinks Tennessee’s four private prisons are working just fine.

“[The feds] make the decisions that they would,” Haslam said when asked if Tennessee should phase out private prisons. “I think if you talk to Tony Parker, who’s our commissioner of corrections, he would say we provide supervision and oversight to private prisons just like we do to ours.”

All four state private prisons, along with Davidson and Hamilton Counties’ jails, are operated by the Nashville-based Corrections Corporation of America.

…When asked if he had read Shane Bauer’s lengthy investigative story for Mother Jones, in which he went undercover as prison guard in a CCA prison in Louisiana, exposing appalling conditions for prisoners and guards alike, Haslam shook his head.

“No, but my experience with Mother Jones is that they’re not exactly a level playing field, in terms of private interest and private enterprise. But I would say this, our corrections folks are confident they provide the same level of oversight and the same accountability to private operators as we do in our own facilities,” Haslam said.

Also, in response to a previous post (HERE) of a TSEA press release, Department of Correction Public Information Officer Alison Randgaard has sent via email the following departmental statement and Parker comment:

Statement: The Tennessee Department of Correction works closely with CCA and currently has no plans to end our contract with CCA or any of the counties that contract with CCA.

Quote from Commissioner Tony Parker: “While I have no direct knowledge of the specific circumstances surrounding the Deputy Attorney General’s directive, this decision does not unilaterally affect prison operations for Tennessee. Currently the Department of Correction is satisfied that CCA managed facilities are being operated in accordance with state policies and Correctional Standards. TDOC has many policies and procedures in place for monitoring and inspection of all of our prisons, including the privately managed facilities. The CCA managed facilities are held to the same high-standards as all of the TDOC managed facilities.”

TSEA urges end to TN prison privatization

News release from Tennessee State Employees Association
NASHVILLE – In light of the concerns outlined last week by the Deputy Attorney General of the U.S. Department of Justice about the deficiencies of private prisons, and due to the recent increase in private prison facilities in Tennessee, TSEA is calling for an immediate stop to any further state contracts with private prisons and a reduction or end to the use of all private prisons in Tennessee.

“Last week’s Department of Justice decision to reduce, and ultimately end, its use of private prisons should have Tennessee considering taking similar action,” TSEA President Bryan Merritt said. “Commissioner Tony Parker and all the employees at the Tennessee Department of Correction do a great job on a daily basis, and there is simply no good reason to continue paying a private prison company that provides an inferior product, lower levels of safety and security, and debatable cost savings for the public.” Continue reading

Sullivan County pays $50K to settle prison newspaper lawsuit

Sullivan County has agreed to pay Prison Legal News $50,000 to settle a federal lawsuit that claimed the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Department was censoring and refusing to deliver publications and newsletters to inmates, reports the Kingsport Times-News.

Prison Legal News is a project of the Human Rights Defense Center, a Florida-based nonprofit organization whose mission is public education, prisoner education, advocacy and outreach in support of prisoners’ rights.

PLN filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Greeneville in October 2013 naming the county, the sheriff’s department and Sheriff Wayne Anderson as the defendants.

PLN claims the department has been censoring and refusing to deliver its material to inmates held at the jail, including hundreds of copies of its monthly journal and dozens of copies of informational brochure packs.

The Sullivan County Jail used to have a postcards-only mail policy with all other mail, except legal mail, to be returned to sender. No packages were allowed unless approved by the jail’s facility administrator.

…Sullivan County Attorney Dan Street said the matter did not go to mediation. Since the mail policy had been changed and to keep from pulling the sheriff’s department into a trial, Street said the $50,000 settlement was a good way to put the matter to rest.

“We’re pleased that this case has resolved, and that prisoners at the Sullivan County jail can receive letters from their children and other family members instead of having their correspondence restricted to postcards,” said Alex Friedmann, managing editor of PLN. “Many people in jail are awaiting trial, have not been convicted and are presumed innocent, and retain most of their rights — including their rights under the First Amendment.”

Aramark gets state prison food contract

After opting to end its relationship with a troubled state-based food provider, the Tennessee Department of Correction chose a company with its own history of issues as its replacement, reports The Tennessean.

The department plans to award its food services contract to Aramark, a massive Philadelphia-based company that provides food for many large venues across the country, including Nissan Stadium.

“After the State and Aramark negotiate and finalize a contract, the expected start date for food delivery will be October 1, 2016,” the department said in a news release issued late Wednesday. Continue reading

Eight TN drug offenders get Obama sentence cuts

Eight Tennesseans are among 214 drug offenders whose prison sentences were shortened Wednesday by President Barack Obama in the largest single-day grant of commutations in the nation’s history.

further from Michael Collins:

Deborah Lucille Blue of Alcoa, Debra Brown of Nashville, Thomas Duncan of Columbia, Steve Gillespie of Greeneville, Robert L. Matthews of Memphis, Kenneth Smith of Nashville, Jimmy Walden Jr. of Morristown and Byron Willis of Knoxville will see their sentences shortened as a result of Obama’s actions.

“This is a country that believes in second chances,” Obama wrote of the commutations in a Facebook post. Continue reading

Hepatitis-infected TN prisoners sue the state

Tennessee inmates infected with hepatitis C on Monday filed a federal lawsuit against state prison officials, asking the court to force the state to start treating all inmates who have the potentially deadly disease.

Further from the Tennessean:

The lawsuit, filed by attorneys with the ACLU and other advocates in U.S. District Court in Nashville, says the Tennessee Department of Correction officials knowingly denying inmates care for their hepatitis C, also known as HCV, constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. It alleges the department is denying care because the best available medication is too expensive.

“In reality, (department officials) ignore the medical needs of (inmates) and class members in order to save costs. (The department’s) written politics for HCV diagnosis, assessment and treatment utilize outdated standards of care and normalize the practice of refusing treatment for unjust and medically unsound reasons,” the lawsuit states.

Inmates Charles Graham, also known as Charles Stevenson, and Russell L. Davis are named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit. Attorneys representing the inmates include Thomas Castelli from the Nashville office of the ACLU, Karla Campbell of Nashville-based law firm Branstetter, Stranch and Jennings and Elizabeth Logsdon of advocay organization Disability Rights Tennessee.

Note: The ACLU press is below, including link to the text of the lawsuit. Continue reading

Lawsuits on toilet paper leads judge to block prisoner’s filings

East Tennessee’s chief federal judge has banned an imprisoned crack dealer from filing any court action without his approval, reports the News Sentinel.

The unusual move came after Eric Houston has filed more than 100 civil petitions in federal courts across the U.S. — all handwritten, filled with profanities, and some drafted on toilet paper.

Chief U.S. District Judge Tom Varlan this week issued a permanent injunction that bars Houston “from filing any motion, letter or civil action in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee without first obtaining approval from the chief district judge.”

The injunction also bars court clerks from accepting any filings by Houston without Varlan’s approval and threatens to hold Houston in contempt if he violates the order.

Legislators urge state payment to innocent man imprisoned 31 years in prison

By Sheila Burke, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A man who spent 31 years in prison for a rape he did not commit is at the center of a battle with the state of Tennessee for compensation that supporters say he is legally owed after being robbed of decades of his life.

Lawrence McKinney, who is now 60 and works part time at his church to help support his ailing 75-year-old wife, said he trusts in God that money will come through to help pay the bills, including medical costs for his wife, Dorothy. But members of his church and two state lawmakers say they are boiling mad and tired of getting the runaround from both the Tennessee Board of Parole and the office of Gov. Bill Haslam.

McKinney was robbed of having children, building a job, getting an education and putting aside money for retirement, said Rep. Mark Pody, a Republican who represents the former prisoner’s district in Lebanon, Tennessee. Tennessee, Pody said, is morally and legally bound to compensate him.

“Our state had him in prison incorrectly. We’ve got to make this right,” the lawmaker said Wednesday.

McKinney was released from prison in 2009 after DNA evidence showed that he did not rape a woman in Memphis in 1977. Continue reading