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TDOC Taking Applications for Spring Citizens’ Correctional Academy

Press release from the Tennessee Department of Correction; February 13, 2015:

NASHVILLE – The Tennessee Department of Correction is now accepting applications for the spring 2015 Citizens’ Correctional Academy. The academy is a four week/six session program designed to give Tennesseans an in-depth look at the state’s largest law enforcement agency. Classes will be held every Tuesday evening during the month of May in Nashville.

“Citizens’ Correctional Academy focuses on the work of more than 6,800 men and women who are dedicated to keeping our communities safe. The academy is designed to give the public a better understanding of our agency through a hands-on approach,” Commissioner Derrick D. Schofield said.

Applications for the Citizens’ Correctional Academy are available on the departmental website at www.tn.gov/correction/ or you may request an application by emailing TDOC.Communications@tn.gov.

  • Applications will be accepted until Friday, March 27, 2015.
  • Classes begin on Tuesday, May 5, 2015 from 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.

For more information, call Tashonda Burton at 615.253.8133.

Comptroller: More than $200K Stolen by Former TN Prison for Women Employee

Press release from the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury; September, 9, 2014:

A special investigation by the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury has determined that Mary Williams, a former Tennessee Prison for Women trust fund custodian, took at least $216,845 from inmate trust fund accounts during a 33 month period. The scheme was first exposed by the Law Enforcement Unit of the Tennessee Department of Correction’s Investigation and Compliance Unit. The investigation was performed in conjunction with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

Investigators discovered that Ms. Williams created fraudulent deposits into selected inmates’ accounts to make it appear as if those accounts had available funds. Ms. Williams then issued checks from those accounts, and used the money for her personal benefit. This was done without the authority or knowledge of the inmates or prison officials.

On September 5th, Williams was indicted by the Davidson County Grand Jury on one count each of theft over $60,000, forgery, computer fraud and official misconduct. She was arrested and booked into the Davidson County Jail on September 8th.

Investigators recommend that prison officials separate financial duties in the office. No single employee should have the authority to record deposits, direct withdrawals, and have access to completed checks. Allowing one employee to have complete control over a transaction increases the risk of fraud.

“Time and again we are finding that one individual has complete control over accounting functions,” Comptroller Justin P. Wilson said. “Our office is committed to protecting taxpayer money, and it’s important that adequate checks and balances are put in place to eliminate fraud, waste and abuse.”

To view the investigation online, go to: http://www.comptroller.tn.gov/ia/.

Haslam Creates Task Force on Sentencing, Recidivism

Press release from the Office of Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam; August 14, 2014:

Group to develop legislative and policy recommendations

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced the formation of the Governor’s Task Force on Sentencing and Recidivism as part of the administration’s overall effort to reduce crime and improve public safety.

In June, the Governor’s Public Safety Subcabinet announced a partnership with the Vera Institute of Justice to review sentencing and correction policies and practices. The creation of a task force is the next step in that collaboration.

“We have put a strong emphasis on addressing some of our state’s toughest safety challenges head on, and the Public Safety Subcabinet is doing great work,” Haslam said. “This task force is a next step in making sure we have a comprehensive approach to public safety in Tennessee. I am grateful to the Tennesseans who have agreed to dedicate their time to these issues, and I look forward to their recommendations.”

Members of the task force include:

  • John Campbell, criminal court judge, Memphis
  • John DeBerry, state representative, Memphis
  • James Dunn, district attorney general, 4th judicial district
  • Tim Fuller, sheriff, Franklin County
  • Bill Gibbons, commissioner, Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security
  • Mark Gwyn, director, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation
  • Kim Helper, district attorney general, 21st judicial district
  • Torry Johnson, district attorney general (retired), Nashville
  • Brian Kelsey, state senator, Germantown
  • William Lamberth, state representative, Cottontown
  • Linda Leathers, chief executive officer, The Next Door
  • William B. Lee, chief executive officer, Lee Company of Tennessee
  • Jon Lundberg, state representative, Bristol
  • Mark Luttrell, mayor, Shelby County
  • Becky Duncan Massey, state senator, Knoxville
  • Gerald Melton, public defender, 16th judicial district
  • Richard Montgomery, chairman, Tennessee Board of Parole
  • Seth Norman, criminal court judge, Nashville
  • Bill Oldham, sheriff, Shelby County
  • David Rausch, chief of police, Knoxville
  • Derrick Schofield, commissioner, Tennessee Department of Correction
  • John Stevens, state senator, Huntingdon
  • Blair Taylor, president, Memphis Tomorrow
  • D. Kelly Thomas, court of criminal appeals judge, Knoxville
  • Doug Varney, commissioner, Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse
  • Amy Weirich, district attorney general, Shelby County
  • Verna Wyatt, executive director, Tennessee Voices for Victims

The current sentencing structure in Tennessee has been in place for more than 20 years. An examination will ensure that the structure is in line with the variety and severity of criminal behavior. Establishing an effective set of sentencing laws can resolve inconsistencies and avoid discrepancies that compromise public safety.

The task force will receive assistance from the Vera Institute of Justice’s Center on Sentencing and Corrections. Vera staff will conduct data and policy analysis; identify expertise and resources to support the work of the task force; facilitate meetings and assist in the development of the task force recommendations.

The Vera Institute of Justice is a national, independent, non-partisan justice policy and research organization based in New York. Vera has decades of experience partnering with state and local governments across the United States to improve justice systems.

The task force will submit its recommendations to the Governor’s Public Safety Subcabinet by June 2015.

The subcabinet was created by Haslam in 2011 and launched a multi-year public safety action plan in 2012. The group includes commissioners of the departments of Safety and Homeland Security, Correction, Mental Health, Children’s Services, Health and Military, along with the chairman of the Tennessee Board of Parole, directors of the Governor’s Highway Safety Office, Office of Criminal Justice Programs, Law Enforcement Training Academy and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

TN DOC to Hold Job Fair in Nashville Nov. 2, 3

Press release from the Tennessee Department of Correction; October 31, 2013:

NASHVILLE – The Department of Correction will hold a job fair this weekend for all professionals interested in working in one of four Nashville prisons. Available positions include correctional officer, food steward, and nursing staff. The job fair will include information on compensation, educational benefits, and flexible schedules.

“Our agency is comprised of a great team of professionals who work hard every day to operate safe and secure prisons and provide effective community supervision in order to enhance public safety,” Commissioner Derrick Schofield said. “We are looking for individuals who want to play a role in this important mission.”

Interested applicants can learn more by visiting our website at: www.tn.gov/correction or view the TDOC recruitment video on Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b5u-qXA9EHI

WHAT:      TDOC Job Fair

WHEN:      Saturday, November 2, 8:00 am – 1:00 pm
Sunday, November 3, 1:00 pm – 4:00 pm

WHERE:    Tennessee Department of Correction
Lois Deberry Special Needs Facility
7575 Cockrill Bend Boulevard
Nashville, TN 37243

TN to Open Nation’s First State-wide Residential Recovery Court

Press release from the Tennessee Department of Correction; July 22, 2013:

NASHVILLE – The Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (TDMHSAS) and the Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC) are opening the first state-wide residential Recovery Court in the nation, effective August 1, 2013.

The court is located in the Morgan County city of Wartburg, which is about 45 miles west of Knoxville. A special Ribbon-Cutting Ceremony will be at 10:30 a.m. EDT on Tuesday, July 30, at 541 Wayne Cotton Morgan Drive, Wartburg, Tennessee 37887. Among those scheduled to be in attendance are Governor Bill Haslam, State Senator Ken Yager of Harriman, State Representative John Mark Windle of Livingston, and many others.

The 100-bed program has been established to allow the state to divert people in need of substance abuse treatment or mental health services from hard prison beds to effective treatment programs that are evidence-based and proven to have a larger impact on reducing recidivism. It will also allow for prison beds to be reserved for those violent offenders who are in most need of them.

This Recovery Court is different from the other Drug Courts and Recovery Courts currently in operation in that this one is more intensive than the current program and offers services on a 24-hour-a-day, 7-day-a-week basis. It will be operated by the Davidson County Drug Court Support Foundation, a private foundation.

The Recovery Court will cost much less per person than an average prison: While prison costs an average of $65 per prisoner per day, the Recovery Court will cost an average of $35 per person per day.

“While incarceration is expensive, this isn’t just about saving dollars,” says TDMHSAS Commissioner Douglas Varney. “It is about doing what is best for public safety.”

Nationally, people who participate in evidence-based community programs that meet their needs recidivate at about one-third the rate of people who don’t. Alternative sentencing should be reserved for those offenders that are most in need. Drug offenders have been proven to have success in drug court programs that effectively address their needs.

“This program should not be considered being soft on crime,” says TDOC Commissioner Derrick Schofield. “What it says is that we’re going to place people in the best option to ensure they don’t re-offend. But also, we’re going to make sure we have a prison bed available for people who commit violent offenses that harm our communities.”

TDMHSAS and TDOC are working on this project in partnership with the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security, the Tennessee Department of Health, and the Davidson County Drug Court.

National Human Rights Non-Profit Accuses TDOC of Violent Incident Cover-ups

Press release from the Human Rights Defense Center; February 21, 2013:

Nashville, TN – – The Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC), a non-profit organization that advocates for the rights of people who are incarcerated, announced today that the Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC) is covering-up and misclassifying violent incidents in an apparent attempt to conceal rising levels of institutional violence in state prisons.

In September 2012, HRDC released data compiled from public records requests that revealed violent incidents in state prisons had increased approximately 20% during the first 18 months of TDOC Commissioner Derrick Schofield’s tenure, from January 2011 through June 2012, compared with the year before he was appointed by Governor Haslam. Such incidents included prisoner-on-prisoner assaults, prisoner-on-staff assaults and institutional disturbances; of particular concern was an apparent increase in assaults on staff members.

The increased violence coincided with a number of policy changes implemented by Schofield that were widely perceived as being punitive and militaristic – including requiring prisoners to walk in a single-file line under staff escort, a specified distance apart, in silence, with their hands out of their pockets (even in cold weather); daily cell inspections during which prisoners must stand by their cells without talking, reading or doing anything else until all cells in a unit have been inspected; stricter property rules; and standing or sitting counts held at 5:00 to 6:00am.

Following a September 18, 2012 HRDC press release on increasing levels of violence within TDOC facilities, HRDC began receiving letters from both prisoners and prison staff indicating that the TDOC was covering-up violent incidents by either not issuing disciplinary “write-ups” to prisoners who engaged in violence, or issuing write-ups for non-violent offenses.

Specifically, HRDC was contacted by several prisoners and TDOC employees regarding an incident that occurred at the West Tennessee State Penitentiary (WTSP) on October 9, 2012. That incident reportedly involved multiple prisoners who assaulted prison staff, including the facility’s warden, Jerry Lester, during a morning cell inspection. Shortly afterwards all Tennessee prisons were placed on temporary lockdown statewide.

According to documents produced by the TDOC pursuant to a public records request, multiple WTSP prisoners had approached staff members, including Assistant Warden (AWO) Robert Henry, “in a threatening manner as to cause injury.” Staff responded by spraying them with pepper spray; at least three prison employees were hit with pepper spray during the brawl. The prisoners were identified as gang members and one report stated they “acted in concert … in their assault on staff.” Another report noted that one prisoner had pushed AWO Henry “in the chest area,” while a separate document stated “a fight broke out” during the morning inspection.

Although multiple sources indicated that Warden Lester was involved and had suffered injuries, none of the records produced by the TDOC stated that he was present, nor did he file an incident report himself. The TDOC refused to produce video footage of the WTSP incident pursuant to a public records request. All nine prisoners implicated in the October 9 incident were transferred to the Riverbend Maximum Security Institution (RMSI).

However, those prisoners were not charged with violent disciplinary offenses; instead, they all received write-ups for participation in Security Threat Group (STG) activity – which, according to TDOC spokesperson Dorinda Carter, is considered a non-violent disciplinary charge.

Therefore, although there was an incident involving nine prisoners that resulted in an “assault on staff” and a “fight,” with the prisoners being pepper sprayed and later transferred to a maximum security facility and placed in segregation, they were not charged with assault, fighting or other violent disciplinary offenses.

This appears to validate other reports received by HRDC that prison officials are downgrading or misclassifying violent incidents so that data entered on TOMIS – the TDOC’s internal computer system which tracks prison-related information – does not reflect increasing levels of violence under Commissioner Schofield’s tenure.

According to a TDOC employee who contacted HRDC on February 19, 2013 but did not want to be identified due to fear of retaliation, “In order to make it appear that assaults on staff and inmates are not increasing, Commissioner Schofield … has ordered wardens to reduce the number of incidents reported on TOMIS by changing the code of how an incident is documented. For example, a report filed on TOMIS documenting an assault on staff will still report an assault on a staff member within the body of the report; however, the incident will not be coded as an assault on staff thereby cleansing the data so that assaults appear to be down or steady rather than increasing as they actually are.”

“The answer to rising levels of violence – particularly violence against staff members – is not to cover-up the reporting of such incidents,” stated HRDC associate director Alex Friedmann, who served time in Tennessee’s prison system in the 1990s. “Rather, the answer is to ascertain the underlying causes of the violence and develop solutions accordingly.”

Meanwhile, violent incidents continue to occur. According to a January 16, 2013 memo from Warden Michael Donahue at the Hardeman County Correctional Facility (HCCF), which is operated by Corrections Corporation of America, “Over the past few days we have had some incidents at this facility that are both alarming and totally unacceptable. Last week, one of my staff was assaulted in the chow hall for no reason…. In addition on Tuesday, January 15, 2013, we had two separate incidents of gang fight activities in the hallway and chow hall.”

As a result, the facility was placed on lockdown. The lockdown was lifted a week later but the prison was again put on lockdown status on January 28, 2013 due to “ongoing conflicts with gang activity and violence against staff at this facility that are both alarming and totally unacceptable,” according to a memo from HCCF Acting Warden Terrence Dickerson. The second lockdown extended into February.

Since the Tennessee legislature dissolved the Select Oversight Committee on Corrections in June 2011 there has been no direct oversight over the state prison system, except through the Governor’s office and the standing legislative Judiciary Committees – which, despite being informed about increasing violence in TDOC facilities, have taken no apparent action.

An article concerning the TDOC’s cover-up and misclassification of violent incidents in state prisons will appear in the March 2013 issue of Prison Legal News, a publication of the Human Rights Defense Center.

Parole Officer Arrested for Theft of Court Ordered Fees, Fines Paid by Offenders

Press release from the Tennessee Department of Correction; January 17, 2013:

SEVIERVILLE – An extensive investigation by the Department of Correction’s Office of Investigations and Compliance has led to the arrest of a probation/parole officer on charges of theft. The investigation revealed Officer Joshua Keith DeBord misused funds paid by offenders under his supervision. The offenders thought they were paying court ordered fines and fees but DeBord kept the money for his personal use.

“These allegations are a serious violation of the public trust and the oath our officers take to uphold the law,” Commissioner Derrick Schofield said. “The vast majority of our officers take their sworn duty seriously, those who do not will be held accountable for their actions to include possible prosecution.”

DeBord has been charged with theft over $500. He was booked into the Sevier County Jail. He is on administrative leave pending termination.

State Seeks ‘Solid Alternatives’ to Incarceration

Longer sentences, rising admissions to state prisons and a slowing in the number of inmates released are contributing to increased prison costs, the state’s top corrections department official said.

One way the state is trying to combat those trends is by developing “solid alternatives to sending somebody to prison,” like drug courts and day-reporting centers, Commissioner Derrick Schofield said during a state budget hearing earlier this month.

Gov. Bill Haslam pressed state prison officials for more detail on why the state’s cost of overseeing inmates is increasing.

“When we have responsibility for an offender, we have responsibility for them,” Haslam said. “I’m just trying to come back and figure out what’s driving that from a bigger picture. Are there other things we can and should be doing as a state?”

In January a new state facility set up to house 1,500 inmates is set to open in Bledsoe County. The prison is an expansion of the Southeastern Tennessee State Regional Correctional Facility.

The Department of Correction is responsible for 107,960 offenders, roughly the population of Murfreesboro, Schofield said. About 30,000 of those people are in prison. The remainder are on probation or parole or under community supervision.

To view other state budget hearings, click here.

DOC Assistant Commissioner Resigns, Agency Calls for Investigation into Dead Parolee Supervision

Press Release from the Tennessee Department of Corrections; Oct. 4, 2012: 

NASHVILLE, TN – Commissioner Derrick Schofield has directed the Department of Correction’s Office of Investigation and Compliance to conduct a thorough investigation into performance audit findings related to probation and parole supervision of deceased offenders. Upon conclusion of the investigation follow up information will be provided.

In a related matter, following Wednesday’s subcommittee hearing, Assistant Commissioner Gary Tullock submitted his resignation, effective immediately.

“This is about accountability and our commitment to the public. We want the citizens of Tennessee to have full confidence in our ability to supervise offenders,” said Commissioner Schofield. “We will continue to work diligently to ensure we will not compromise public safety when it comes the supervision of felony offenders.”

 

Bredesen Names Gayle Ray to Lead Department of Correction

State of Tennessee Press Release, Dec. 04, 2009:

NASHVILLE – Governor Phil Bredesen today appointed Gayle Ray to be the next Commissioner of the Department of Correction.

Ray will assume her new role on January 1, 2010, following the departure of current Correction Commissioner George Little, who earlier this week announced he will leave Bredesen’s cabinet on December 31 to become chief administrative officer for newly-elected Memphis Mayor AC Wharton. Ray currently serves as deputy commissioner in the Department of Correction.

“I’m pleased to appoint Gayle to this position and appreciate her willingness to serve our state in this important role,” Bredesen said. “Her experience in corrections and law enforcement includes service at the state and local levels, and she is the right person to assume leadership of our efforts to the department.”

Tennessee’s Department of Correction is responsible for supervising and rehabilitating convicted offenders. The department operates 14 prisons and correctional facilities across the state that house more than 19,000 inmates. The department also operates the Tennessee Correctional Academy in Tullahoma, which serves as the state’s primary training and staff development program for correction workers.

“I appreciate the opportunity to serve Governor Bredesen and the State of Tennessee as commissioner,” Ray said. “Under the leadership of Governor Bredesen and Commissioner Little, the department has made great strides to ensure public safety by better preparing prisoners for a successful return to the community, and I intend to continue leading the department toward this important goal.”

Ray served as sheriff of Davidson County from 1994 to 2002, during which time the Metro jail system became the first jail system in the country to be fully accredited. She also developed systems to help offenders with mental illness, initiated graduated sanctions and started a number of rehabilitative programs to help offenders re-enter the community.

She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from Middle Tennessee State University, a Master of Arts in English from the University of Arkansas and a Master’s of Business Administration from Belmont University. Ray is a recipient of the Athena Award, the YWCA Academy for Women of Achievement Award and the Public Relations Society of America’s Apollo Award.