Prison worker finds personal information on state computer - WSMV News 4

Prison worker finds personal information on state computer

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South Central Correctional Facility is located in Clifton, TN. (WSMV) South Central Correctional Facility is located in Clifton, TN. (WSMV)

Prison jobs not only help inmates pass the time, they are designed to teach skills useful in the outside world.

But are some inmate jobs an opportunity to victimize unsuspecting people?

The Tennessee Department of Correction is now investigating something the News 4 I-Team brought to their attention. It happened at a prison entrusted to the private company CoreCivic.

A former inmate said the information he got his hands on could have been a goldmine behind bars.

In the case of one state employee, very sensitive and personal information ended up in South Central Correctional Facility in Clifton, TN.

“They’re supposed to go through them and erase the hard drives and send them to us with nothing on them,” said James Middleton.

Middleton spent seven years and four months behind bars for rape. He had technical ability and landed a job in jail refurbishing state computers.

“We were supposed to check them and make sure they work, then disassemble them, clean them up and put an operating system on them,” Middleton said.

TDOC said the computer work pays anywhere from 34 to 50 cents an hour, a decent prison wage.

Surplus computers from “various state agencies” were sent to South Central Correctional Facility and the state says the “sending agencies erased them.”

Once refurbished, the computers are donated to local schools. But inmates said not every machine was clean.

“Every truck that came in would have some on it where they didn’t take the stuff off,” Middleton said. “We had a free hand to do anything we wanted to. You could have as much pornography as you wanted as long as they didn’t you with it. They run wild, they really run wild.”

As he neared his release date, Middleton jotted down some information from a department of transportation computer he was working on.

“It had all her bank records, where she refinanced her house, all of her kids,” he said. “I wrote down her cell and her husband’s cell. And when I get a phone I intend to call them. I’m going to explain not to ever do that again.”

A few weeks later after Middleton got a phone, Middleton asked the I-Team to witness and record his phone call. The woman was a little shocked to learn that her state computer still loaded with data ended up in prison.

“Can I explain some of the stuff I found on there? I found the combination to the vault in your master bedroom closet, the application where you refinanced your house. To add on that, had all your kids’ names, social security numbers,” Middleton said. “All of this info that never should have gotten to a prison.

“I wiped it clean. The only thing I copied was your number so I could contact you,” he added.

“So when they took it and surplused it, they didn’t wipe it completely. Is that what you said?” the woman asked. “I appreciate you all calling and telling me that.”

“She was just lucky. Lot of people would have got that and would have sold those numbers, and it would have caused her and her children a lot of problems,” Middleton said.

Middleton said it was a common occurrence.

“I was really shocked walking by and looking over their shoulder at some of the pornographic stuff people put on their work computers,” he said. “These are all state computers. They come from the legislature, we got the laptops from the state legislature. They come from the state police department, the department of transportation. Some of them I seen pics of local police on them, so I assume they come from local police too.”

When the I-Team asked the state about this prison work program, correction officials stepped in. They told us, “Out of an abundance of caution, our office of investigations and compliance removed some of the computers from the class for inspection. We are confident we have done our due diligence.”

The I-Team also asked the Tennessee Department of Transportation. It was a TDOT computer that still had that sensitive information on it when it went to the prison for salvage work.

TDOT said it had been sending computers to the prison program for as many as 10 years and used to drill holes in them before getting rid of the machines.

That protective step stopped in 2014 when another division of state government took over the task.

The I-Team has asked what TDOC discovered after seizing machines at South Central. They have yet to share that information.

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