Category Archives: prisons

Haslam names veteran TDOC staffer as new commissioner

News release from governor’s office:
NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced the appointment of Tony Parker as commissioner of the Tennessee Department of the Correction (TDOC) effective June 19. Parker will replace Derrick Schofield who announced June 1 he is leaving the administration to join GEO Group in Florida as executive vice president for continuum of care.

A 33-year veteran of TDOC, Parker has served five administrations, beginning his career as a correctional officer, working his way up and serving since 2012 as assistant commissioner of prisons, supervising prison operations, security operations and offender management.

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“Tony Parker has spent his life dedicated to serving our state through the correctional system. He put himself through school, earning his associate, bachelor’s and master’s degrees while being promoted through the ranks of the Department of Correction,” Haslam said. “Tony understands the department and its mission from top to bottom, and I have no doubt he will do an outstanding job leading it.” Continue reading

Prisoners, TDOC staff join in celebrating Schofield resignation?

NBC News has done a lengthy critique of Department of Correction operations under Commissioner Derrick Schofield, reporting that prisoners, families, advocates and many staff have cautiously celebrated his announced resignation while Gov. Bill Haslam praised him.

Violence against officers brushed under the rug. Widespread resignations and dangerous understaffing. Exhausted officers overseeing chaotic prisons. Outsourcing to a poorly-staffed private facility. Those are the stories told by a chorus of voices that rarely speak as one — current and former staff as well as prisoners, families and advocates.

“I want to know what kind of fantasy world [Haslam’s] living in,” said Jeannie Alexander, founder of the prisoner-rights group No Exceptions and a former prison chaplain. “This is not a safe, healthy, well-functioning prison system by any stretch of the imagination.”

In a brief interview with NBC News last week, Schofield said he was proud of the system he built. He’s leaving to become a vice president at the GEO Group, one of the country’s largest private corrections companies.

“I look back and there is nothing I would have done differently,” he told NBC News.

Herenton’s push for state contract to house juvenile offenders gets support

The Shelby County Commission Monday approved, on an 8-2 vote, a resolution urging the state Department of Children’s Service to send juvenile offenders to NewPath Restorative Campuses, a new firm founded by former Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton, reports the Commercial Appeal.

In May, Herenton presented to the commission his plan for NewPath: two 200-bed facilities on 40 acres in Frayser and Millington that would provide wraparound services that include medical and mental health care and educational and vocational training.

There is nothing like it in existence in Tennessee and it “will be an exemplary model for the nation,” Herenton told the commission.

Juvenile offenders from Shelby County are being sent to facilities outside the county, taking with them $17 million in funding spent to care for them, Herenton told the commission in his May presentation.

NewPath, a nonprofit, would hire hundreds of people at each facility.

Herenton said studies have found that when juveniles are housed close to home, they are less likely to offend again.

Commissioners Mark Billingsley and Walter Bailey abstained from the vote.

Bailey noted his opposition to facilities for juveniles and said he didn’t know enough about the proposal.

“On other hand I must say parenthetically, I don’t subscribe to privatizing penal facilities as a rule. You have to do a lot of selling to convince me otherwise,” Bailey said.

Embattled Correction Commissioner Schofield resigns

News release from the governor’s office
NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced Department of Correction Commissioner Derrick Schofield will leave the administration at the end of June to join GEO Group in Florida as executive vice president for continuum of care.

Schofield, 55, has led the department since the start of the administration in 2011 and has been an integral voice in shaping the governor’s public safety agenda during the administration. He has served on the Governor’s Public Safety Subcabinet since its inception, most recently helping to shape the Public Safety Act of 2016, which makes smarter use of prison bed space, among other important safety objectives.

“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.”

The state’s corrections system is comprised of 14 prisons, collectively housing approximately 21,000 offenders. The Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC) has more than 6,500 employees and supervises 79,000 offenders on probation, parole or community corrections.

“I am thankful for the ability to serve under Gov. Haslam’s leadership and am proud of the work that we accomplished together,” Schofield said. “I am especially proud of the hard work the more than six thousand correctional professionals have put into making the Tennessee Department of Correction one of the best in the nation.”

The mission of the department was expanded in 2012 to include providing effective community supervision of adult offenders, transferring certain functions from the Board of Parole to the department.

Before becoming TDOC commissioner, Schofield was an assistant commissioner of Corrections in Georgia. A native Georgian, he spent eight years with the U.S. Army, reaching the rank of Captain, and has a master’s degree in Public Administration from Columbus State University.

Schofield’s last day will be June 20.

UPDATE/Note: In an unusual move, the governor’s office, after sending out the above, also sent media the governor’s response to a reporter’s question later in the day. The question was whether Schofield’s departure had anything to do with the criticism he has faced. The answer:

“Absolutely not. I want to be as clear as I can: Derrick Schofield has been a great commissioner of correction. He got a wonderful job offer. I begged him to stay. It’s a really good offer that he thinks is the right thing for him. But I couldn’t be more grateful for the work he’s done here, and I will miss him.”

Admission of inmates halted by problems at new private TN prison

By Travis Loller, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee’s newest prison has stopped taking inmates after just four months of full operation. Records obtained by The Associated Press suggest why.

State corrections officials and the private prisons operator Corrections Corporation of America confirmed to the AP that the Trousdale Turner Correctional Center halted new admissions two weeks ago, leaving the 2500-inmate prison about two-thirds full.

A company spokesman on Tuesday blamed “growing pains.” Both said the decision was made jointly.

“We’re holding off on sending more prisoners until CCA has an opportunity to increase its recruiting efforts and staffing,” Tennessee Department of Correction Assistant Commissioner Tony Parker told the AP.

The prison in Hartsville began receiving inmates in January, between 50 and 100 each week. By early March, its warden was replaced. CCA provided few details about the change of command.

But a March 17 report to Parker from his Correctional Administrator Tony Howerton, who observed the prison over two days, outlines a series of problems.

The memo — obtained by the AP through an open records request for public documents about the taxpayer-funded facility — says the guards were not in control of the housing units, were not counting inmates correctly, and were putting inmates in solitary confinement for no documented reason.
Continue reading

On TN prison problems with hepatitis C

As initially reported by the Tennessean in the first of a series of articles, Only eight of the 3,487 inmates known to have hepatitis C in Tennessee prisons are receiving medicine that can cure the disease, caused by a virus that can lead to fatal liver damage. Nearly one in two inmates the state did test in 2015 showed signs of having hepatitis C.

On Monday, Rep. John Mark Windle, D-Livingston, whose district includes one of the state’s biggest prisons in Morgan County, held a news conference to declare the situation poses a danger to the public at large. Excerpt from WPLN’s report:

“Ninety percent of all inmates are released back into the general population,” he says. “And if you’ve got 10,000 people that have got hepatitis C that are going to re-enter the population, the chance for the spread of that disease is phenomenal. And we need to take steps to try to address that immediately.”

But Windle says that 10,000 figure is conjecture, because prison officials don’t know for sure exactly how many inmates are carrying hepatitis C. It’s based on a screening of 900 inmates, roughly half of whom came up positive for hepatitis C.

Prison officials do know that more than 3,000 have the disease, which is spread through dirty needles, tattoos and bodily fluids.

Windle would like the state to give every inmate blood tests for hepatitis C — or at least develop a protocol for figuring out those most at risk for the disease. For the good of the public as much as the good of prisoners.

“If the correctional officers and the counselors are subject to being in the same personal space as those inmates … it’s not uncommon to be subjected to bodily fluids, urine, feces tossed on them,” he says. “At the very minimum, we should provide a safe workplace.”

Wider testing would be expensive, Windle admits. And treatment for hepatitis C could cost more than $80,000 per patient. Prison officials have cited that price — as well as the high likelihood that inmates will contract the disease again after they’re cured — as major barriers to eradicating the disease.

But, says Windle, the cost to the state if the disease spreads beyond the prison walls would be far greater.

“I just think it’s time to address (what) may be an epidemic,” he says.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Correction responds that Tennessee prisons already have safety protocols in place to protect employees from exposure to hepatitis C.

She adds that testing positive for hepatitis C does not necessarily mean an inmate is carrying the virus because antibodies remain in the bloodstream even after they’ve recovered. She says doctors weigh factors such as virus type, the patient’s liver condition and other health conditions before determining treatment.

115 prisoners released without mandated anti-violence classes

At least 115 state prison inmates have been released without taking domestic violence classes mandated by the state Board of Paroles, according to WSMV TV.

Board of Parole member Patsy Bruce says she first learned of the situation when an inmate contacted her last year to say the courses on “batterers intervention and victim impact” that he was supposed to take were not available. A check indicated 428 inmates mandates to attend the classes did not do so in a five-month period last year and 115 were released without attending since their sentences expired.

“That’s the scariest thing you can hear – is that you have released somebody, and they are not even getting any kind of help to not do what they’d done many times – or sometimes before,” Bruce said.

Lisa Helton, a Department of Correction field services administrator, said there was a backlog of parolees assigned to classes because there wasn’t enough parole officers to teach them.
The state has since contracted with a private company, called Spectrum, to teach the classes. The 115 inmates already released were offered a chance to take them afterwards, but none did.

Four TN prisoners among 58 getting Obama sentence commutations

President Barack Obama has commuted the prison sentences of 58 drug offenders, including four from Tennessee.

From Michael Collins:

Efrem Rahoman Douglas of Knoxville, Cintheia Denise Parra of Memphis, Trevis Love of Harriman and John Herbert Talley of Chattanooga will see their sentences expire Sept. 2, the White House announced Thursday.

“As a country, we have to make sure that those who take responsibility for their mistakes are able to transition back to their communities,” Obama said in a statement. “It’s the right thing to do. It’s the smart thing to do. And it’s something I will keep working to do as long as I hold this office.”

Douglas was serving a sentence of 300 months in prison and 10 years of supervised release for possession with intent to distribute at least 50 grams of cocaine base. He was convicted in 2005 in U.S. District Court in East Tennessee.

Parra was sentenced in 2006 in federal court in Northern Mississippi to 235 months in prison and five years of supervised release for possession with intent to distribute more than 500 grams of methamphetamine. The sentence was amended last year to 188 months in prison.

Love was serving a sentence of 240 months in prison and 10 years of supervised release for conspiracy to distribute and possession with intent to distribute at least five kilograms of cocaine. He was convicted in 2005 in federal court in East Tennessee.

Talley was sentenced in 1995 to life in prison and 10 years of supervised release for conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine base and for using a phone in the commission of a felony. He was convicted in federal court in East Tennessee.

To date, Obama has commuted the sentences of 306 people — more than the previous six presidents combined — and said he will continue to review clemency applications. But he said only Congress can bring about lasting changes in federal sentencing through criminal justice reform.

Prison assaults rise with new definitions

Since Jan. 11, there have been 70 assaults with a weapon against Tennessee correctional officers and 49 assaults that didn’t involve a weapon, reports The Tennessean.

Those 119 assaults put the Tennessee Department of Correction on pace to more than double the number of assaults on staff recorded in 2015, according to figures obtained from the department through a request by The Tennessean.

The seemingly drastic increase comes after Tennessee prison officials changed the definitions of assault on officers and inmates amid continued scrutiny from officers, inmates and the organization the department relies on to inspect its facilities and policies.

…Haslam spokeswoman Jennifer Donnals didn’t comment on whether the new data accurately reflect the level of violence in Tennessee prisons.

“The (ACA) report also made a recommendation, and the department reviewed it, implementing a new policy. It’s not appropriate to compare numbers from two different policies,” Donnals said in an emailed statement Wednesday.

…Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, has been critical of Schofield and the way the department has handled issues pertaining to safety, scheduling and pay. In a statement Wednesday, he says the new data validate the concerns about violence in the prison system.

“When issues at the Department of Correction first arose last year, our Senate State and Local Corrections Subcommittee conducted exhaustive hearings resulting in important changes like these definition adjustments. This new data reveals that the concerns expressed were, in fact, real,” Ramsey said in an emailed statement.

…Sen. Jeff Yarbro, D-Nashville, also has criticized the department’s previous approach to how it tracks violence and assaults in state prisons. He echoed Ramsey’s statement Wednesday, saying the “spike” in assaults reflected in the new data shows assaults in the past have been “misclassified and underreported.”

House sub kills bill to change prison work schedules

Despite calls from correctional officers to abandon a controversial 28-day work schedule, a House subcommittee has killed a proposal to change the Department of Correction, reports The Tennessean.

A bill (HB1957), sponsored by Rep. John Mark Windle, D-Livingston, seeks to implement an idea that was included in a review of the state’s prison system that the American Correctional Association performed last year. The review came after The Tennessean and other media published reports of safety and staffing issues in Tennessee prisons.

The ACA review included a recommendation that the state Department of Correction replace the currently used 28-day schedule with a traditional 40-hour workweek, suggesting officers work six days and then take three days off.

Opponents, which include the Tennessee State Employees Association, say the 28-day schedule unfairly delays overtime payments, which ends up decreasing the amount of money an officer takes home. They also argue the current system is leading to more vacancies, which is forcing the remaining officers to work more and creating unduly unsafe environments.

…Rep. Bud Hulsey, R-Kingsport, took issue with the bill, saying that the department came up with the current schedule after a two-year review.

“I have a real problem sometimes with my role as a legislator on how far do I stick my nose into (the) state’s business,” he said.

Retention has become such an issue that every prison in the state has had to keep a retention officer on staff, Windle explained. “We’ve never had to do that before,” he said.

But House state government subcommittee chairman Bill Sanderson, R-Kenton, said Windle’s legislation circumvents the department’s ability to make its own rules.

“I feel like as Representative Hulsey mentioned that it may be a little premature for us to move forward on something like this,” he said.