When a prison inmate is finally through serving time for a crime, what happens once they’re released?
In facilities operated by the state of Tennessee, the Department of Correction commissioner has said no prisoner should be let out without a valid driver’s license or state ID.
Without it, they have trouble finding housing or jobs and are more likely to be arrested for something minor.
But at some of the state’s largest prisons, the ones run by Core Civic, the ID rule doesn’t yet apply.
A Tennessee state senator said that’s just one example of a much larger problem.
“I got out June 15, 2017. I was there seven years and four months,” said James Middleton.
Middleton said he didn’t want to “roll the dice” with a parole board, so he set out to serve every calendar day required to pay his debt to society.
When he arrived at South Central Correctional Center, the Core Civic prison in Wayne County, he also started keeping his own records.
“You can’t prove anything if you don’t keep a record,” explained Middleton.
For a solid year, in precise detail, he documented the kinds of things that may seem trivial to outsiders, but inside prison, they’re critical.
“I kept the time every day that the chow hall closed, the yard opened and the yard closed,” said Middleton.
He can tell you when the prison stopped serving milk, when teachers took extended time off from inmate classes.
More than a year before his scheduled release, Middleton began documenting his own requests for the paperwork he’d need to function in the free world.
When asked when Middleton started the process, he replied.
“The 19th of May in 16. They did absolutely nothing until the 11th of April of 17 after I filed a grievance.”
The handwritten grievances echo what read like an important directive from the state’s Commissioner of Correction.
In a February 2016 memo, Commissioner Tony Parker wrote a memo addressed to the Tennessee Department of Correction inmate population.
“Providing (the) offender with the tools necessary to successfully re-enter society is an important function of our mission,” the memo read. “Your valid DL (driver’s license) or state ID will be issued to you at your time of release.
“I should have had a state ID. I should have had a Social Security card. It’s all stated in policy 511-03 and 511-05, effective in 2011 and 2013, but they refused to do it,” said Middleton.
The reason for Core Civic’s refusal may be a surprise, especially when you consider the company is under contract with the state of Tennessee, and paid millions of taxpayer dollars, to manage the South Central facility and others.
The reason that grievance was denied.
“South Central Correctional Facility is not a state-run facility, therefore, cannot provide the actual documents that he is requesting.”
For Middleton, it’s contradictory and confusing why some rules affect some inmates and others don’t.
“You can't-do anything,” said Middleton. “You can’t get food stamps. I went down there to get food stamps. Well, where’s your ID? I don’t have an ID. They sent me out the game without an ID. Well, I can't-do anything for you.
“Social Security is the same way. Until you can come up with some ID, you can't-do anything. You can’t get a free bus ticket. You’re just stymied everywhere you turn.”
“I think there’s a real danger of creating a two-tier system where we have one set of prisons operated by the state that adheres to one set of standards and another set of prisons operated by a private operation that adheres to a different set of standards,” said Tennessee state Sen. Jeff Yarbro.
Yarbro has been outspoken about the need for prison oversight. He said the contract the state has with Core Civic needs to be examined and quite possibly re-written.
“If the contracts are written so they can just go through the motions and check the boxes for compliance and there’s no real oversight, not only are we not getting what we paid for, we’re not doing the job that needs to be done,” said Yarbro.
Middleton left South Central this summer a free man without any form of identification to prove who he is.
It may be even more critical that he be readily identified on the street.
Middleton is a convicted rapist and registered sex offender. Where he lives and who he comes in contact with matters.
“So in other words, they’re telling they can discriminate against all the state inmates who are in privately managed facilities versus the state inmates that are in the state facilities, and that is discrimination. There’s no two ways about it,” said Middleton. “They’re all state inmates. They all got state IDs, state numbers, wear state clothes. They got through the state for classification and they send you out.
“It’s a totally different set of rules with a privately managed facility and the state facility. I hope with all the stuff you’ve done, that it helps the guys that are back there cause no one’s done anything to help them.”
The News 4 I-Team asked Core Civic and the state about this case, why Core Civic prisons are not considered “state-run facilities” and why some inmates could get IDs upon release and others could not.
The state responded by saying “The memo doesn’t apply to all inmates; it says, qualified inmates.”
“The policy states (in Section III) that the driver’s license and ID program applies to eligible offenders of TDOC sites.
“Very few states provide inmates with IDs upon release from incarceration and we are proud to be on the forefront.
“We are actively looking to see how it can be expanded to Core Civic sites.”
On Tuesday News 4 learned that the state has fined Core Civic nearly $44,000 in recent months for 66 problems relating to its largest prison, Trousdale Turner Correction Center in Hartsville.
It’s not clear what agency, conducted the audit or why it wasn’t immediately made public.
Typically the State Comptroller’s office does this type of review, but in this case, the comptroller said it was not involved.
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