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 →
Next month, in the quiet Morgan County city of Wartburg, the state Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, along with the Tennessee Department of Correction, will open what the state says is the nation’s first statewide residential Recovery Court, reports the News Sentinel. The 24-hour, 100-bed facility, which opens its doors Aug. 1, will allow the state to divert people with substance abuse or mental health issues from prison beds, with the hope of halting the cycle of hospitalization, incarceration and homelessness that plagues many.
In a November budget hearing meeting with Gov. Bill Haslam, Mental Health Commissioner Doug Varney laid out such a plan as being a humane and cost-effective way to deal with what he sees as one of the state’s biggest problems. In 2011, he told Haslam, for the first time ever, the state saw more people seeking treatment for narcotics addiction than for alcoholism — and the state’s system was sorely taxed.
“A large number of people in jails … their core problem is really drug abuse,” he said. Such an intensive program could “change their (lives) before they ever get that far.”
TDOC estimates the average daily cost to house a prison inmate at just more than $67. The Recovery Court residential program, even being more service-intensive than existing programs, will cost an average of $35 per person per day, the state said. But it also will, in theory, save money by reducing recidivism — “repeat offenders” — by using “evidence-based” programs “proven to have a larger impact on reducing recidivism.”
The state said studies have shown the recidivism rate for people who participate in such programs is one-third that of those who don’t.
However, it should not been taken as the state going “soft on crime,” TDOC Commissioner Derek Schofield said.
“What it says is that we’re going to place people in the best option to ensure they don’t re-offend. But also, we’re going to make sure we have a prison bed available for people who commit violent offenses that harm our communities,” he said.
A legislative watchdog group agreed Monday to delve deeper into the state Department of Correction’s awarding of a $200 million-plus contract to handle inmate health care to a relative newcomer despite its $6.4 million higher bid, reports the Chattanooga TFP. Fiscal Review Committee members want the winner of the contract, Centurion LLC, to come before the panel in September.
Correction Department officials went before Fiscal Review for approval of their request to extend the current contract of Brentwood, Tenn.-based Corizon until Sept. 30 to provide Centurion additional time to prepare taking over the service.
While the business at hand was the 90-day extension of Corizon’s existing contract, committee members devoted most of their time questioning Centurion’s winning of the new three-year contract.
Corizon, which had the existing contract, lost the competition to Centurion on the new three-year contract. Corizon protested but two state panels upheld the award to Centurion, the most recent coming in a June 6 ruling.
Recently, Correction Department officials said, Corizon indicated it would not push the protest further by going to court.
Lawmakers criticized the request-for-proposal process and raised concerns about the higher cost and what they see as the recently created Centurion’s relative lack of experience.
Rep. Tim Wirgau, R-Buchanan, said it raises “red flags” for him.
“Give me some reasons why you decided to spend $6.4 million more,” he told Wes Landers, chief financial officer for the Correction Department.
Rep. Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby, was highly critical of Centurion’s experience.
“That seems a little shady there,” Faison said, adding that the state either had standards or not in awarding points in the request-for-proposal process for experience.
In remarks both during the committee and afterward, Wes Landers, the Correction Department’s chief financial officer, defended the decision to go with Centurion.
Byron (Low Tax) Looper, convicted of the first-degree murder of state Sen. Tommy Burks, died this morning in Morgan County Correctional Complex, reports the News Sentinel. Looper, 48, was found unresponsive inside his cell in Wartburg, according to a news release from the communications director for the Tennessee Department of Correction.
He was pronounced dead at 11:10 a.m. He was serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole for Burks’ murder.
TDOC Commissioner Derrick Schofield asked the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to assume the lead into the investigation of Looper’s death, according to the news release. District Attorney General Russell Johnson has approved the request.
Johnson said Wednesday afternoon details are sketchy and unconfirmed, but he was told guards performed what he was told was a “full level cell extraction” and Looper had to be contained.
The DA said he was told Looper was treated at the prison’s medical unit and was then put in an isolation cell. Looper was found dead about an hour later, Johnson said he was told.
Johnson said he notified state Sen. Charlotte Burks, D-Monterey, of the death of her husband’s murderer.
Looper was convicted of first-degree murder in the assassination on Oct. 19, 1998, of Burks, a 28-year veteran of the state Legislature. Looper, running as a Republican, was Democrat Burks’ political opponent in that year’s election.
Looper officially changed his middle name from Anthony to (Low Tax) in 1996, and was elected as Putnam County Tax Assessor that year.
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.
Inmates are entering Tennessee prisons faster than they’re being released, and the Correction Department says the unforeseen trend is busting the agency’s budget, reports WPLN. The state prison system has asked for an extra $50 million to make it through this year. Last year, 2,000 more inmates than the state projected entered the system after being sentenced by local courts. At the same time, the number of prisoners released into the community dropped by more than a thousand.
Correction Commissioner Derrick Schofield lays partial blame on the Parole Board, which comes into play on both ends. It has a tarnished record tracking felons released on parole and overseeing offenders who get probation instead of jail time. Schofield says his goal is to rebuild trust with judges, who have discretion with sentencing.
…The department doesn’t expect the prison population to subside anytime soon. On top of the $50 million to get through this year, the agency is asking for a budget increase of $100 million next year.
A once-famed Knox County judge who spent 19 years sending criminals to prison now faces his own stint behind bars, reports Jamie Satterfield. A 10-woman, two-man jury in U.S. District Court on Friday deemed already disgraced former Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner guilty of five of six federal charges of lying to cover up his pill-supplying mistress’ role in a drug conspiracy.
The convictions immediately cost Baumgartner his state pension.
He faces a March 27 sentencing hearing at which federal prosecutors are expected to seek the maximum three-year sentence he faces on each count, although U.S. Attorney Bill Killian said Friday it is unlikely U.S. District Judge Ronnie Greer would stack each of the five sentences onto the other.
ROGERSVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Former Hawkins County General Sessions Judge James “Jay” Taylor has received an additional one-year sentence in exchange for guilty pleas to six felony theft charges.
The Kingsport Times-News (http://bit.ly/SSDiXu) reports that a judge on Friday also ordered Taylor to pay $71,783 in restitution to victims in Hawkins County and serve 600 hours of community service.
Taylor is already serving a three-year jail sentence stemming from guilty pleas last month to similar charges in Davidson County.
The newspaper reports the charges in Hawkins County stem from money he took from clients in his private practice and from funds he raised to put a display in the courthouse lobby that contained the Ten Commandments.
Tennessee’s prisoners have had some of the shortest stays in prison over the past two decades when compared with other states, according to The Tennessean. A recent report by the Pew Center on the States, which measured average length of stay for people sent to prison in 35 states, found that Tennessee had the fourth-lowest average prison stays in the nation in 2009, behind only South Dakota, Illinois and Kentucky.
Prisoners here could expect an average prison stay of 1.9 years, 6 percent less than they would in 1990 and far lower than the national average for 2009, which was just under three years.
…State officials point out that while offenders spend less time in prison today than 20 years ago for property and drug crimes, there was a 41 percent increase in prison time for violent crimes.
The State Building Commission has approved spending $800,000 on updating a master plan for the future use of the old Tennessee State Prison on Cockrill Bend in West Nashville, reports The City Paper. The castle-like structure, which was used in the movie The Green Mile, has sat vacant since 1992. The state-approved money will help piggyback off a 2007 study regarding the building and surrounding properties
One of the options for the building includes a $27 million renovation, according to a commission agenda. But Tennessee Department of Corrections Commissioner Derrick Schofield said abandoning the property wasn’t out of the question either.