Former prison employee describes difficulties with therapeutic program

Trousdale Turner Correctional Facility is the state's newest and largest prison. (WSMV)

The News 4 I-Team continues to uncover concerns at a state prison run by a private company called CoreCivic.

The Trousdale Turner Correctional Facility in Hartsville is the largest prison in Tennessee.

Inmates and their families, current and former employees claim there are plenty of problems at the prison two years into its operation.

“I started in the addictions field about 30-some years ago,” said Jim Casey. “Picked up my bachelors, picked up my masters.”

Casey said he was looking to create another award-winning therapeutic prison program when he sold his Indiana home and moved to Tennessee to work for CoreCivic.

Casey is a licensed drug and alcohol counselor. His resume is loaded with gold stars.

“Program of the year in Indiana. Employee of the year for an agency in North Carolina,” he said.

He thought the brand new Trousdale Turner Correctional Facility would be eager to establish an effective program.

“Nationally you probably are looking at 60 to 80 percent of offenders have a drug issue that directly or indirectly has something to do with their being there. It’s a primary investment in any facility’s mission to rehabilitate,” Casey said.

But Casey said there was writing on the wall within the first week.

No one in the administration attended the corporate training that set the groundwork for his special therapeutic program.

By his second month on the job, there had been a complete change in top leadership.

From the start, Casey said there seemed to be very little value placed on institutional discipline.

“In a new facility is has to be emphasized really quickly,” he said. “That whole system was so disorganized, dysfunctional. It was worthless.

“Now you have these seasoned inmates, hundreds and hundreds of them, walking around with officers with no disciplinary control,” Casey added. “I had guys walking up saying, ‘Go ahead, write me up. I don’t need to listen to you.’ That’s unheard of.”

Apart from discipline and danger, Casey said it was practically impossible to get his classes established when the place was perpetually locked down.

“It’s typical in a prison for a count not to clear randomly here and there, but it was perpetually problematic,” Casey said. “The frequency and the length was phenomenal. There was days we’d walk in the gate and be told to report to the waiting room for secondary assignments. One time we sat for three days and never got re-assigned to anywhere else.”

CoreCivic is under contract by the state to manage the Trousdale prison and administer the programs and jobs inside the walls that help inmates earn a very small wage and credit toward patrol.

Each inmate amounts to about $50 a day for the company.

By contract, the state expects quality rehabilitative programs and classes.

Casey described what was happening with his class roster.

“There’s people assigned to the program who aren’t in it. There’s people who have graduated and have gone home from the prison who are still in it,” Casey said. “I had guys who were lost in the adjustment for months, which means they didn’t get credit for what they were doing, didn’t get paid, and obviously were upset with how they were being treated.”

Casey said he conducted his own audit and submitted it to management. His spreadsheets show inmates enrolled in the therapeutic drug program, yet not formally assigned or paid for as many as 51 days. That’s hundreds of hours of time and pay that went uncredited.

Eleven names needed to be taken off the rolls completely. They had used drugs, committed assaults and broken other rules.

Every inmate enrolled in a program affects contract compliance for CoreCivic.

When a visitor from the corporate office came through one day, Casey said they were amazed to see the men so “upset.”

“Yeah they’re upset. You can’t believe the stuff that goes on here on a day-to-day basis. And here we are keeping them in a program and not giving them credit. They don’t earn a lot, 10 cents an hour, but after a week you got 10 bucks where you can go to commissary and buy a card and send it home to your daughter on her birthday, get a toothbrush and toothpaste and clean your mouth,” Casey said.

Casey said he wanted to succeed so much so that he presented his own plan of action to CoreCivic to help quickly solve the record-keeping and enrollment problems.

“Not only was I identifying a problem, I was giving them a solution. It sat in someone’s purse for weeks,” he said.

It wasn’t long after that Casey said he was fired. He said he was essentially blamed for the disorganization he had been fighting to correct for months.

“As part of my exit interview, I handed the warden all my documentation and I said, ‘Look, you have a serious problem here. You need to look closely at this documentation,’” he said.

Casey said there’s a bigger picture here and more at stake than just dollars or bookkeeping. He said he has seen prison become a place where addicts and other law breakers can truly be rehabilitated to re-enter society if good programs are valued and given a chance.

“An addiction doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. There’s a lot of people incarcerated who made a bad choice, but they’re good people. And if they can learn to make better choices, then you’re accomplishing something,” Casey said. “And everybody deserves an opportunity.”

CoreCivic issued the following statement in response to this story:We respect the privacy of our current and former employees, and we do not share information that we believe to be private or confidential except as required through administrative or legal processes. Mr. Casey was employed at Trousdale Turner Correctional Center in the position of Treatment Manager, and he separated from employment with CoreCivic on November 1, 2106.

It is our understanding that eligibility for unemployment benefits in Tennessee is liberally granted in accordance with the purpose of unemployment compensation benefits, and that individuals that are terminated for good cause nevertheless are often deemed eligible to receive unemployment compensation benefits.

In his role at TTCC, Mr. Casey was engaged to provide leadership and administrative continuity for a pre-existing TDOC recovery program. Mr. Casey was responsible for transitioning the program into TTCC from another TDOC correctional facility, where it had shown great success among participants. Mr. Casey was primarily responsible for recordkeeping related to the program he was engaged to manage.

As a Treatment Manager, Mr. Casey was expected to function rather independently without a high degree of close supervision and at a level that would not typically require or suggest that "corporate or the higher institutional administration" attend or monitor the Treatment Manager's day-to-day interaction with and supervision of his or her staff.

All inmates that participated in the program that Mr. Casey managed have been properly credited and paid for their participation during Mr. Casey's tenure as the Treatment Manager.Copyright 2017 WSMV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.