prisons

ACLU wins first round in TN juvenile jailing lawsuit

News release from American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – A federal judge today granted a preliminary injunction in an American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee lawsuit challenging the use of solitary confinement for juveniles. The injunction prohibits the county from subjecting children in its detention facility to solitary confinement as punishment while the case proceeds.

The lawsuit was originally filed on behalf of a 15-year-old pretrial detainee who was held in solitary confinement for five days at the Rutherford County Juvenile Detention Facility. It is now a class action seeking to end the practice of solitary confinement for all juveniles in the Rutherford County Juvenile Detention Facility.

“Being locked in a concrete cell alone for 23 hours a day with nothing but a mattress and a toilet can create lasting damage for a young person’s psychological, social and physical development,” said ACLU-TN cooperating attorney Mark J. Downton of Downton Clark, PLLC. “We are pleased that the court has recognized that subjecting young people to solitary confinement for disciplinary purposes is inhumane.”

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DCS turning over Mountain View juvenile penal center to private operator

The state Department of Children’s Services is moving to convert part of the Mountain View Youth penal center into a privately run treatment center, reports WBIR-TV.

Rob Johnson, DCS spokesman, stressed Thursday the Dandridge center itself will remain open. But the state argues that in its traditional role as a “secure” center for hardened juvenile offenders Mountain View is now underused. DCS announced the development Thursday afternoon.

The idea is to install a 60-bed “Level Three” center that would offer youth in custody more chances to learn job skills and get treatment. It would be “staff secure,” but would allow juveniles in custody more freedom to move around – without the perimeter razor wire that’s now in place.

Mountain View can accommodate 144 people; there are 39 there now, according to DCS.

“We have a really big need for these Level 3 beds,” Johnson said.

Mountain View is one of three such centers in Tennessee with elevated security designed to house serious offenders. In recent years, it’s been the site of escape attempts and assaults on staff members.

The trend is to de-emphasize the traditional state correction center and emphasize , when possible, more treatment-based options for juvenile offenders, according to Johnson.

Mountain View would keep a “hardware secure” area with up to 24 beds, the razor wire fence and steel doors. It would also be run by the private operator, which would lease Mountain View from the state.

…Johnson said DCS already contracts with almost 30 firms that provide services so it wouldn’t necessarily have to seek formal proposals in a bidding system for Mountain View.

Making the change, according to DCS, would free up $3 million for “prevention services” that would go to help reach young people to ensure they don’t end up in the juvenile justice system.

Note: The DCS press release is below.

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Obama commutes sentences of five Tennesseans; grants pardons to two

President Barack Obama commuted the sentences Monday of five Tennesseans jailed on drug-related charges and pardoned two others convicted of non-violent crimes, reports Michael Collins.

In all, Obama commuted the sentences of 153 people across the country, including Rodney Bates of Milan, Amilcar Butler of Nashville, Joseph Lee Gulledge Jr. of Chattanooga, Kari Nicole Parks of Bristol and Timothy Orlando Rainey of Nashville.

Seventy-eight others received presidential pardons, including Kenneth Shannon Meadows of Celina and Allen Thompson Sherwood of Ooltewah.

The White House press release is HERE. Below is a cut-and-paste of information provided therein on each of the Tennesseans.

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TN prisons — public and private — running short on staff

There are more than 800 staff vacancies at Tennessee’s public and private prisons, reports The Tennessean. Officials say the state’s strong economy has increased competition for staff, though the newspaper notes there have been many months of complaints about pay, benefits, hours and safety from correctional officers, inmates and their families.

Right now, there are 519 vacancies at the state’s 10 public prisons, representing roughly 11 percent of the workforce, according to data provided by Tennessee Department of Correction spokeswoman Neysa Taylor. Those prisons are supposed to have 4,576 employees, according to the information she provided.

…There are 306 vacancies at the state’s four private prisons, operated by CoreCivic, the company previously known as Corrections Corporation of America. That represents a vacancy ratio of 18.6 percent, company spokesman Jonathan Burns said.

“It’s important to note that vacancies reflect the total possible number of positions at each facility and are not reflective of the number of positions necessary for the safe and secure operation of our facilities,” Burns said.

Additionally, CoreCivic uses a private third-party contractor at times to hire for temporary workers to fill some of those vacancies. An online listing for a company called G4S shows a security officer opening in Hartsville, Tenn. — home of the Turner Trousdale Correctional Center, the largest prison in the state. The site says the salary is in the range of $20 to $25 an hour. The average starting salary for a CoreCivic officer is closer to $13 an hour, Burns confirmed.

…Part of the problem at public prisons is staff pay and an inability to keep staff for very long, according to the department’s latest statistical abstract. Systemwide for the current budget year, the turnover rate was more than 36 percent. At the Tennessee Prison for Women, recently plagued by myriad issues that led to leadership changes, the turnover rate was higher than 60 percent.

Comptroller finds ‘multiple’ violations of law by Rutherford County sheriff

News release from state Comptroller’s office:

The Tennessee Comptroller’s Office has completed its review of numerous problems within the Rutherford County’s Sheriff’s Office. Many of the issues involve Rutherford County Sheriff Robert Arnold and Chief Deputy of Administration Joe Russell, who are currently facing a 14-count federal indictment.

Investigators determined that Sheriff Arnold and Chief Deputy Russell violated multiple state and local laws, policies and procedures by concealing their relationship with JailCigs. JailCigs is a Marietta, Georgia-based company that sells e-cigarettes to inmates, including inmates within the Rutherford County Jail.

Sheriff Arnold failed to disclose his conflict of interest with JailCigs even though he and his wife received a combined $66,790 from the company from December 2013 through April 2015. Chief Deputy Russell received $52,234.41 from JailCigs over that same period. Arnold and Russell also violated county purchasing policies by circumventing the process and failing to solicit bids.

When Comptroller investigators interviewed Sheriff Arnold regarding his conflict of interest, he stated, “The Sheriff is exempt from all policies and procedures.” He could not provide documentation to support his statement.

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