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Nancy Amons is an award-winning member of the News4 Investigates team. She has been breaking stories in Middle Tennessee for more than 20 years.

The Tennessee Comptroller’s Office has released a scathing audit of the Tennessee Department of Corrections, saying leaders must improve their oversight.

News 4 has been investigating Tennessee's prison system for more than five years.  In 2014,  a warden and assistant warden told us  how records of assaults were being deleted.

"I don't think the public knows what's happening in the prisons," former warden Andrew Lewis told News 4.

And now, a state audit said TDOC hasn't ensured its data on incidents - even deaths - is valid and reliable.

One example the auditors site concerns inmate deaths.  The prison system classified eight inmate’s deaths as "natural", but of the eight,  five deaths were from drug  overdoses of fentanyl and meth.  One of the eight deaths classified as natural was a suicide, and one was a homicide.

"We have no idea what's real and what's not real," Representative Mike Stewart, chair of the House Democratic caucus,  told News 4’s Nancy Amons.

"We've lucky we haven't had a massive prison break."

The audit found inmates not getting proper medical or mental health treatment.

Staffing was at minimal levels,  both at prisons run by the private contractor, CoreCivic, and the state. 

There's a  lack of monitoring  for  probationers and parolees.

And,  TDOC's  new $15 million computer system -  in development for three years -  still hasn't gone live.

Stewart said he'll  introduce legislation to bring back the state's system of oversight committees, which was discontinued in 2012. 

CoreCivic sent News 4  a statement  stating its  commitment to "providing a high standard of care for every person in our Tennessee facilities.”

Regarding staffing, CoreCivic wrote that they have ""significantly increased pay to attract and retain employees."

The Department of Corrections Commissioner  Tony Parker issued a statement saying in part, “Although the Department concurs, or concurs in part, with all of the findings referenced in the Comptroller’s report, we maintain that the TDOC operates safe and secure prisons and provides effective community supervision. The majority of the findings can be attributed to technology challenges, delayed reporting, and the staff shortages that our state, like many others, currently experience. “

There will be a sunset hearing for the Department of Corrections Monday,  when TDOC is expected to be asked pointed questions.

The Judiciary and Government Joint Subcommittee of the Government Operations Committee is scheduled to meet at 9:00 a.m., on Monday, January 13, 2020. The meeting will be held in House Hearing Room 1, Cordell Hull Building.  

The Comptroller’s Office summarized its key points of its 18 findings in this news release:

  • TDOC’s leadership must improve its oversight in order to ensure compliance with laws, regulations and polices; provide safe and secure facilities; and reduce the risk to public safety. (Finding 1)
  • TDOC’s annual inspection percentage scores of facilities do not provide a clear measure of correctional facility performance. These scores do not give additional weight to “critical” findings that may impact safety and security. (Finding 2)
  • TDOC has not ensured that data on incidents, including deaths and other serious incidents, is valid and reliable. (Findings 4, 5, and 6 and Observation 1)
  • TDOC should ensure that staff follow policies and procedures for investigating sexual abuse and harassment allegations. (Finding 9)
  • TDOC did not ensure its medical and mental health contractors met required staffing levels, and it allowed contractors to offset assessed liquated damages outside of the contracts’ authority. (Findings 10 and 11)
  • TDOC must be able to demonstrate that inmates are receiving sufficient medical and mental health services. (Findings 12, and 13 and Observations 4 and 5)
  • TDOC and CoreCivic must continue efforts to ensure adequate staffing in order to provide safe and secure facilities. CoreCivic must also continue making progress on the accuracy of its monthly staffing reports. (Findings 14 and Observations 6 and 7)
  • Management must ensure staff perform inmate screenings within required timeframes. Management must also be sure inmates are aware of information and services the department provides. (Findings 15 and 16 and Observation 10)
  • Although there has been improvement, the department has still not ensured adequate monitoring of individuals placed on parole or probation. (Finding 17 and Observation 11)
  • The department has had difficulties in replacing its outdated information management system for offender data. (Observation 12)
  • Department management did not ensure that its staff and CoreCivic complied with public records regulations, resulting in lost records as well as potential evidence. (Finding 18 and Observation 13)
  • The department has not reported recidivism rates for inmates who participated in educational and vocational programs, as required by statute.

“I encourage TDOC management to review each of these findings and develop plans to correct them,” said Comptroller Justin P. Wilson. “It’s likely this will include revising current policies, training and re-training staff, and performing additional monitoring to ensure laws and policies are being followed.”

The full audit report can be found here.

 

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