HARTSVILLE, TN (WSMV) - In recorded conversations with family members, inmates at the Trousdale Turner Correctional Center describe a prison where correctional officers and case workers, not medical providers, treat COVID-19 patients, and the sick intermingle with healthy inmates.

Claims that Core Civic, the private company that runs the facility, repeatedly denied.

Because inmates are prohibited from doing interviews and staff are often hesitant to speak to reporters for fear of losing their jobs, family members of inmates in Trousdale recorded their conversations and provided them to News4 Investigates.

The family members asked that News4 Investigates not reveal they or their relatives’ identities.

The state prison had its first death from COVID-19 this week, when convicted serial rapist Ronnie Johnson, 67, succumbed from the disease.

More than 1,200 other inmates have tested positive, and Core Civic said 50 employees are also sick.

“I’m really in fear for my life,” said an inmate in conversation with his sister. “The CO’s (correctional officers) keep on getting it. They’re dropping like flies.”

That same inmate said he’s observing staff, not trained in medicine, are treating the sick.

“They got case managers, and correctional officers, treating the inmates. Ain’t no doctors coming down here,” the inmate said.

Amanda Gilchrist, director of public affairs for Core Civic, wrote in an email that the inmate’s claim is false.

Trousdale Turner's health services department has a full complement of medical providers to treat the individuals in our care including 3 physicians, 2 dentists, a Health Services Administrator, 2 clinical supervisors, dental assistants, 2 nurse practitioners, and several RN's and LPN's. The medical staff is conducting symptom and temperature checks on all positive inmates twice daily at the facility,” Gilchrist wrote.

In a conversation with another inmate, a family member asked about if the inmate is being separated from the sick.

“Are they separating – like putting the positives in this pod and putting the negatives in this pod?” the family member asked.

“No, we’re all together,” the inmate said.

Sluss denied that claim as well.

That is patently false. The cohort process was completed over the weekend.  The positive inmates are housed with positive inmates and negative inmates with other negative inmates.  None of the positive inmates are symptomatic at this time and the facility will continue to monitor,” Gilchrist wrote. 

Senator Brenda Gilmore, D-Nashville, said she’s heard from several family members of inmates who echo the same concerns.

“A lot of time, people might not have sympathy for inmates. How do you convey to these people that this is something that they should be concerned about?” asked News4 Investigates.

“If (inmates) are infected, then they infect the staff. When a prison guard goes back onto the community, they take the virus to their families and out into that community,” Gilmore said.

Below are the full responses from Core Civic about the inmates claims.

Inmate"They got case managers, and correctional officers, treating the inmates. Ain’t no doctors coming down here."

Response: This is false. Trousdale Turner's health services department has a full complement of medical providers to treat the individuals in our care including 3 physicians, 2 dentists, a Health Services Administrator, 2 clinical supervisors, dental assistants, 2 nurse practitioners, and several RN's and LPN's. The medical staff is conducting symptom and temperature checks on all positive inmates twice daily at the facility. In accordance with contract, non-medical staff such as unit managers and case managers are permitted to conduct temperature and symptom checks on negative inmates (twice weekly.)

Inmate: "That is not her ((talking about the case manager) job. She is not – she is not medical – she just don’t have the experience in the medical field to even deal with a coronavirus patient."

Response: See above.

Inmate: "I’m really in fear for my life."

Response: Since even before any confirmed cases of COVID-19 in our facilities, we have rigorously followed the guidance of local, state and federal (CDC) health authorities, as well as our government partners. We have responded to this unprecedented situation appropriately, thoroughly and with care for the safety and well-being of those entrusted to us and our communities. Our practices have evolved and changed as the CDC guidance and recommendations have evolved over time and as we learn more about the novel coronavirus. We’re also working closely with our partners at the Tennessee Department of Correction to ensure the health and safety of everyone at Trousdale Turner. (You have our full statement from the website, as well, that covers our COVID-19 plans and response on a global level)

Inmate: "The CO’s keep on getting it. They’re dropping like flies."

Response: CoreCivic conducted a facility-wide testing initiative with both inmates and staff at Trousdale Turner last week.  We publicly disclosed the results of the COVID-19 tests and can confirm we have a total of 50 employees and contractors that have tested positive for the virus. These employees are isolated at home and in regular communication with their healthcare provider. In addition, there is a robust communication process in place at TTCC. Since the onset of the pandemic, those in our care have been notified whenever there was a positive case at the facility (staff or inmate) and we advised if they were affected or not (following contact tracing.) All inmates are notified of their test results (positive or negative.)

Inmate's relative: "Are they separating – like putting the positives in this pod and putting the negatives in this pod?"

Inmate: "No. We’re all together."

Response: That is patently false. The cohort process was completed over the weekend.  The positive inmates are housed with positive inmates and negative inmates with other negative inmates. None of the positive inmates are symptomatic at this time and the facility will continue to monitor.  

LocationNumber TestedNumber PositiveNumber NegativePending
Bledsoe County Correctional Complex2,3195861,7303
Morgan County Correctional Complex0000
Northeast Correctional Complex1010
Lois M. DeBerry Special Needs Facility5050
Riverbend Maximum Security Institution2110
Tennessee Prison for Woman5041
Turney Center Industrial Complex275382370
Turney Center Industrial Complex-Annex382360
Mart Luttrell Transition Center3111
Northwest Correctional Complex898458485
West Tennessee State Penitentiary1010
Women's Therapeutic Residential Center3021
Contract & Private Managed prisons
Hardeman County Correctional Facility4121
South Central Correctional Facility2020
Trousdale Turner Correctional Center2,4041,2851,08930
Whiteville Correctional Facility2020
Total5,9621,9593,96142
 

Related coverage

Inmate at Trousdale Turner dies after testing positive for COVID-19
Over 1,200 staff, inmates test positive for COVID-19 at Trousdale Turner Correctional Center
Inmates at Trousdale Turner prison to be tested for COVID-19
Almost 750 state prisoners test positive for COVID-19
 
 
 
 

Chief Investigative Reporter

Jeremy Finley is the chief investigator for News4 Investigates. His reporting has resulted in criminal convictions, legislative hearings before the U.S. Congress, and the payout of more than a million dollars to scam victims.

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