Tag Archives: jails

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

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.”

Five indicted for abusing inmates at Morgan County jail

News release from TBI
COOKEVILLE – In two separate cases, Special Agents from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation have obtained indictments for a total of five individuals in connection to allegations of the mistreatment of inmates in the Morgan County Jail.

In the first case, which began November 24, 2015 at the request of 9th District Attorney General Russell Johnson, TBI Agents investigated an allegation of Official Misconduct by correction officers in the Morgan County Jail. The allegation, brought by an inmate’s family, accused officers of encouraging the assault of an inmate on November 21, 2015 in the presence of correction officers, who were also accused of not intervening in the incident.
Continue reading

Nashville paying $150K for jail inmate’s death

Nashville is prepared to pay the family of Michael David Jones $150,000 to settle a lawsuit filed after his death while held in the Davidson County jail after arrest on public intoxication charges near a homeless shelter, reports The Tennessean.

Jones, heavily intoxicated and noncompliant when he was arrested at 11 p.m., was pepper-sprayed before being taken into custody and then placed in hand restraints while in the booking area of the Davidson County Criminal Justice Center. He was eventually taken to a seclusion cell.

Later, correctional officer placed what’s know as a “spit hood” — a mask-like device used to prevent inmates from spitting on officers — over Jones after he indicated he was going to spit in their faces.

Jones soon told correctional officers that he could not breathe in the “spit hood,” according to a legal analysis prepared by Metro Council attorney Jon Cooper. Officers adjusted the hood, and he quieted down. They checked again after another eight-minute interval, and Jones appeared fine, but he was found unconscious the next time they monitored. When officers took the “spit hood” off, vomit spilled out.

Jones was transported to Nashville General Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 2:09 a.m.

…”While it is unclear whether the use of the spit hood actually caused or contributed to his death, the failure to follow DCSO procedures and continuously supervise Mr. Jones certainly supports the plaintiff’s argument,” the council’s legal analysis reads.

Though no disciplinary action was taken against any of the involved sheriff’s office employees, according to the legal analysis, the sheriff’s office has taken measures to seek to prevent similar incidents in the future.

On income from the incarcerated in Rutherford County

With Rutherford County Sheriff Robert Arnold under investigation by the FBI and TBI over ties to a company selling e-cigarettes to jail inmates, the Daily News Journal has a Sunday story raising questions about other ways officials profit from prisoners.

As an example, the article cites Jerry Martin, who paid a $9.75 fee so his daughter in jail would make six phone calls — and the calls then cost another $32.60. He paid another $4.65 fee to put $20 into an account so that his daughter could buy commissary products, such as soap, while she spent seven days at the Rutherford County Adult Detention Center.

“That’s price gouging to me,” Martin said during a recent interview from his Leanna Road home in Rutherford County. “I could go out to one of those check-cashing places and wouldn’t have to pay that kind of interest.”

… When it comes to providing phone services for inmates, the county jail contracts with CTC (City Tele Coin Company). Attempts to reach CTC Vice President David Cotton for a phone interview were unsuccessful.

CTC donated $1,500 to Arnold’s re-election campaign in 2013.

The county jail contracts with Keefe to provide commissary products to inmates. Keefe in 2012 also gave Arnold a $500 campaign contribution, and Randy Hockett, whose employer was listed as Keefe Commissary on election finance records, also donated $500 to Arnold’s campaign in 2013.

Prior to Arnold accepting the campaign money, a contract amendment gave Keefe permission to maintain and supply the Sheriff’s Office with computer equipment and software to expand the Detention Center’s video-visitation system. The amendment is worth “a prorated amount” of $215,106 and is good through Jan. 1, 2018.

… The government revenue cut for inmate phone service came to $242,013 in the previous fiscal year, and the cut for commissary products came to $163,000, County Finance Director Lisa Nolen said.

…Maj. Thompson said he does understand the concerns of families facing the high fees, such as to set up phone services.

“This was negotiated before I got here,” Thompson said. “We’ll take that into consideration when the contract comes up for renewal.”

The families of inmates also face fees from lawyers, bonding companies, probation companies and court costs, Thompson said.

“The sad truth is that when someone is incarcerated, the family pays a financial burden,” Thompson said. “It’s sad but true. The cost is just pushed down to the consumer. Unfortunately, families face the financial burden.”

Madison sheriff says overcrowding a factor in weekend jail break

Two inmates at the Madison County Jail Annex, located beside the county courthouse in Jackson, overpowered two female correction officers and briefly escaped Friday night, reports the Jackson Sun. Sheriff John Mehr says overcrowding at the main jail was a factor.

The inmates, both juveniles… escaped from their cell around 11 p.m. Friday. One made it to the roof using a side door and the other was found hiding in a closet, Mehr said around 1:30 a.m. Saturday.

Other inmates who were sharing the cells didn’t try to escape, Mehr said.

…Mehr said the guards were trying to retrieve an item from a cell when the inmates overpowered the guards using fire extinguishers, allowing them to escape.
…Both inmates are in custody and charges could be filed on Monday.

The juvenile inmates cannot be in an area where they can see or hear adult inmates, even though the juveniles are being tried as adults, Mehr said.

Holding the juveniles at the annex was the best option, Mehr said, because of overcrowding at the Criminal Justice Complex, and because the juveniles are facing “serious charges.”

Saturday morning, Mehr attributed one factor of the escape to an overcrowded jail, but said he would watch surveillance video to see what can be done to prevent a similar incident from happening again.

Commissioners voted on July 1 to begin working with the Tennessee Corrections Institute and their County Corrections Partnership to help remedy overcrowding in the Madison County Criminal Justice Complex after the jail failed a state inspection in May.

…Eventually, the committee will decide on options ranging from spending millions of dollars on a new facility to something as simple as having more offenders wear GPS ankle bracelets to monitor their locations instead of putting them in jail.

Jail administrator indicted on charges of stealing from inmates

A grand jury indicted the former administrator of the Loudon County Jail on charges she stole nearly $14,000 from inmate accounts, reports the News Sentinel.

Ruthie Teresa Smith, 40, was released from jail Wednesday after posting a $2,000 bond on the charges, according to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. Smith was indicted on charges of theft over $10,000 and official misconduct.

District Attorney General Russell Johnson requested the investigation Sept. 4 after an audit by the Comptroller of the Treasury determined money was missing from the inmate commissary account at the Loudon County Jail, according to the TBI. Smith was responsible for putting money into that account.

A joint probe by the TBI and the Comptroller’s office determined nearly $14,000 was missing between Nov. 27, 2013, and Aug. 17, 2014.

Smith resigned in August, according to the TBI.

Some TN counties marketing e-cigarettes to jail inmates

Some county jails in Tennessee are allowing inmates to smoke electronic cigarettes behind bars to help pacify what can be a rowdy population and to make money, reports The Tennessean.

These disposable e-cigarettes, which usually cost the inmates between $9 and $15 each, contain no tobacco but instead use a low-voltage battery to deliver the key chemical in cigarettes, nicotine, while emitting only water vapor.

The Tennessee Department of Correction does not allow e-cigarettes in prison. But e-cigarettes behind bars are growing increasingly common across the country, and at least five Tennessee counties have allowed them into their jails. E-cigarette companies have begun exhibiting at Tennessee Sheriffs Association conferences, promising a cash cow for jails.

“Earn $1000s for your jail,” read one sign at the group’s summer 2013 conference, from a company called Precision Vapor.

Sumner County on April 11 began allowing jail inmates to order e-cigarettes, for $14.45 a pop (including shipping), directly from a Georgia-based company called JailCigs. Each one provides about 500 puffs, or the equivalent of two to three packs of cigarettes. A typical pack of cigarettes goes for around $6 in Tennessee.

For every e-cigarette sold, JailCigs places $5 in Sumner County’s general fund.

New bail bond tax falters in Anderson County

Some Tennessee counties are moving to impose a 2.5 percent tax on bail bonds at their county jails, but Anderson County commissioners balked at the idea Thursday after being told the tax could increase jail populations because fewer defendants could make bail.

From the News Sentinel:
Anderson County commissioners last summer approved charging prisoners for items ranging from jail uniforms to toothpaste to toilet paper.

And in a new bid to help pay for a major jail addition and the needed new staff, a commission committee Thursday recommended new litigation taxes on all Anderson County criminal and civil cases.

But Legislative Committee members hesitated to endorse a new 2.5 percent tax on bail bonds after hearing from a lobbyist from the Tennessee Professional Bail Bond Association. Committee members put the move on hold for a month while it’s studied further.

“It absolutely will limit the number of defendants that can make bond and cause the jail population to go up,” Bill Nolan said before Thursday’s meeting.

Once arrested, criminal defendants typically are eligible for bail. Defendants post bonds of varying amounts that allow them to be released from jail; bond is intended to be of sufficient amount to assure they show up for court.

Interest in the new fee picked up after Jefferson County commissioners last month took the first steps toward imposing such a tax. Other counties are now considering such a move, Anderson County Law Director Jay Yeager said.

Yeager said the resolution he prepared in response to commissioners’ request that he study various ways to boost income to run the jail is similar to that approved in Jefferson County, “and several other counties are interested.”

Nolan said the state association has expressed concern that the new tax would reduce the likelihood that bonding companies would put up the requisite amount to secure a defendant’s release from jail.

Bonding firms receive 10 percent or less of a bond as payment from the defendant. Adding a 2.5 percent tax on cash-strapped defendants’ bonds could cut into the firms’ profit margin and reduce the likelihood of their entering a bail bond agreement, Nolan said.

“We’ve got to lower bonds,” said Nolan, a former state representative. “The more we raise these bonds, the more people we keep in jails.”

Commissioner Steve Mead, a member of the committee, expressed concern about the proposed tax. “I have a lot of problems putting this on a person before they are convicted,” he said. “It’s a pretrial punishment.”

Back to the Future in Overcrowded TN Prisons?

In Tennessee prisons, <a href="It's beginning to look a lot like the 1980s.
Back then, Tennessee was forced to overhaul its entire criminal justice system in the wake of civil rights lawsuits and federal intervention over abysmal conditions in prisons. And while Tennessee isn’t quite there yet, it has nearly 5,000 felons stuck in county jails because there aren’t enough prison beds. Some of those jails are being decertified for overcrowding, leaving them vulnerable to lawsuits.”>according to the Tennessean, it’s beginning to look a lot like the 1980s.
Back then, Tennessee was forced to overhaul its entire criminal justice system in the wake of civil rights lawsuits and federal intervention over abysmal conditions in prisons.
And while Tennessee isn’t quite there yet, it has nearly 5,000 felons stuck in county jails because there aren’t enough prison beds. Some of those jails are being decertified for overcrowding, leaving them vulnerable to lawsuits.
The Tennessee Department of Correction ran $20 million over budget last year, and Gov. Bill Haslam has kicked in an additional $48 million in the upcoming year to pay for the large number of state inmates left in county jails.
All the while, state lawmakers continue to file bills designed to put even more people in prison for longer and longer stays.
That disconnect could spell trouble.
Every 20 or 30 years, the state criminal justice system goes through a major change and needs a “fix-it,” said David Raybin, a Nashville criminal defense attorney who helped reform Tennessee’s criminal justice system in the 1980s.
“What’s happening now, you are having the beginnings of a necessity for a revision again,” he said. “The patient is now breaking out in a serious rash. You now need medical attention.”
And county taxpayers are paying for Band-Aids, spending millions on new jails to avoid decertification and civil rights lawsuits
.