Legislators upset with Department of Correction audit - WSMV News 4

Legislators upset with Department of Correction audit, won't recommend reauthorizing agency

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Tennessee State Rep. Mike Stewart, D-Nashville (WSMV) Tennessee State Rep. Mike Stewart, D-Nashville (WSMV)
Tennessee State Rep. Bo Mitchell, D-Nashville (Tennessee General Assembly) Tennessee State Rep. Bo Mitchell, D-Nashville (Tennessee General Assembly)
Trousdale Turner Correctional Facility (WSMV) Trousdale Turner Correctional Facility (WSMV)

Two Democratic lawmakers are going to recommend not to re-authorize the Tennessee Department of Correction after a scathing audit released on Tuesday by the Tennessee Comptroller’s office.

Reps. Bo Mitchell and Mike Stewart, both Nashville Democrats, said in a press conference on Tuesday that they will recommend at a Joint Government Operations committee meeting on Wednesday to recommend not to reauthorize the Department of Correction.

They are also going to recommend strongly the state should no longer use Core Civic to operate facilities used by the state. Three of the findings in the audit dealt with facilities operated by Core Civic.

“I can’t remember ever receiving a Comptroller’s report that shows such flagrant disregard for the reporting requirements by a contractor,” said Stewart, the Democratic Caucus Chairman.

Findings in the audit, which studied the department’s activities from July 1, 2014, through Aug. 31, 2017, highlighted staffing and staffing reports at several facilities operated for the state by Core Civic, a Nashville-based corrections company formerly known as Corrections Corporation of America.

The findings included:

  • Trousdale Turner Correctional Center in Hartsville, and Whiteville Correctional Facility in West Tennessee, both managed by Core Civic, operated with fewer than approved correctional officer staff, did not have all staffing rosters, did not follow staffing pattern guidelines and one left critical posts unstaffed.
  • Core Civic staffing reports for two facilities – Trousdale Turner Correction Center and Hardeman County Correctional Center in Whiteville – contained numerous errors, so information about hires, terminations and vacancies may not be reliable.
  • Trousdale Turner Correctional Center management’s continued noncompliance with contract requirements and department policies challenges the department’s ability to effectively monitor the private prison.
  • Probation and parole officers did not always meet supervision requirements.
  • Probation and parole supervisors did not always meet oversight requirements.

“Channel 4 did a multi-part series about this facility and the problems, yet even today (Core Civic) will not turnover staffing records to the Comptroller for a proper investigation,” said Stewart.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Former chaplain describes conditions inside TN prisonFamilies question handling of medical emergencies inside TN prisonGang activity, security a concern at Trousdale Turner facilityInmates at CoreCivic prisons say they sometimes go months without medical carePrisoners at private-run prisons released without IDs

“Either they need to get their act together or get out,” said Mitchell.

Tennessee Democratic Party Chair Mary Mancini issued the following statement after the release of the audit:

“We didn’t need an audit to know private prisons are immoral and should not exist. There should never be a financial incentive for incarceration. This audit confirms there is insufficient oversight of the private contractors and that outsourcing is not about efficiency, but about using public dollars to create corporate profits. The Tennessee legislature should end the use of private prisons immediately.”

The Department of Correction houses nearly 21,000 inmates at 10 adult prisons, according to the audit, contracts with a private prison management company for the operation of one prison; and contracts with several counties for the operation of three other private correctional facilities that are owned and operated by Core Civic.

By state law, the Tennessee Department of Correction is scheduled to terminate June 30, 2018. The department was established in 1923 to operate the state’s correctional system. The state legislature has reauthorized the Department of Correction to run the prison system since its origin.

The Tennessee Department of Correction issued the following statement in response to the audit:

The Department's commitment to the safety and security of staff, offenders, and the public remains unwavering. As mentioned in the management comments in the audit, multiple steps have already been taken to address the findings noted in the report. We continue to work closely with our government and other partners, and are confident in the progress we have made and the services which are provided.

Core Civic also issued the following statement:

This report goes back to July 2014 and, as we’ve acknowledged previously, there were challenges with bringing the Trousdale Turner Correctional Center up to full speed after its opening. We’ve worked hard to address the challenges we’ve faced, and while we still have work to do, we are making progress. 

For example, we’ve significantly increased pay to attract and retain employees, with the starting salary at Trousdale now more than $16.00 per hour. We’re also offering immediate signing bonuses and relocation bonuses to make sure we’re an attractive option in a competitive Tennessee labor market.

TDOC recently conducted a follow up audit at Trousdale Turner and while we are still awaiting the final report findings, we are encouraged by the initial feedback and look forward to its release. 

We appreciate the strong oversight by our government partners and remain committed to operating safe, secure facilities with high-quality reentry programming.

Click here or scroll down to watch the News 4 I-Team documentary, "A Perfect Storm: Investigating Tennessee's Prison System."

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