prisons

More than 3,700 probation or parole violators now at large in TN

More than 3,700 convicted criminals under the community supervision of the Tennessee Department of Correction are now at large, according to state records reported by WJHL-TV. TDOC confirmed all of those people are in “warrant status” for violating the terms of their probation or parole.

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Eight state prison employees fired in contraband smuggling probe

Eight employees at the Morgan County Regional Correctional Complex have been fired in an ongoing probe started after an inmate breached the state prison’s perimeter, only to return in an apparent effort to smuggle contraband into the prison, reports the Times Free Press.

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Amid freezing temperatures, heat conks out at Riverbend Maximum Security prison

Riverbend Maximum Security Prison, where almost 800 of the state’s most dangerous prisoners are house including those on death row, lost its main heating system on New Year’s Day and officials aren’t sure when it will be working again, reports The Tennessean.

Monday evening, temperatures dropped to single digits in Nashville. The National Weather Service recorded a temperature of 5 degrees at 7:16 Tuesday morning, 24 degrees colder than the “normal value” for the day.   (The temperature was still in the teens on Wednesday morning.)

The department implemented “emergency procedures,” including passing out extra blankets and installing portable heaters, (Department of Corrections spokeswoman Neysa) Taylor said.

In a statement, Bobby Straughter, assistant commissioner of operations, lauded the work of the state maintenance staff.

“These folks worked throughout the night in extreme conditions to ensure that everyone was kept safe. We thank them for their service,” Straughter said.

David Sexton, assistant commissioner of prisons, said in a statement “the staff and inmates have been extremely understanding and cooperative as we work to fix this inconvenience.”

Legislators hear criticism of CoreCivic, call for improvement within a year

A legislative committee has voted, in effect, to give the state Department of Correction another year to show improvement after a hearing Tuesday centered on an comptroller’s audit that found multiple problems prisons operated by CoreCivic under contract with the state.

A joint Government Operations Subcommittee had earlier balked at granting approval of continued operations by the Department of Corrections as required periodically under the state’s “sunset” law  – something that normally happens as a matter of routine. After Tuesday’s hearing, the panel voted to extend the department’s life for just one year.

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State to pay $80K to settle lawsuit over religious teaching in prison inmate program

TRICOR, the state program providing jobs for prison inmates, will pay $80,994 to settle a federal court lawsuit that contended inappropriate religious teaching was included in instructional materials, reports WKRN TV.

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Judge gets reprimand for granting jail sentence reductions for vasectomies

White County General Sessions Jud Sam Benningfied has been reprimanded by the state Board of Judicial Conduct for offering jail inmates 30 days off their time behind bars for getting vasectomies or birth control implants, reports The Tennessean.

Bennifield’s order authorizing sentence reductions for long-term birth control measures was issued in May and rescinded in July after protests. It has led to at least two lawsuits against the judge and the White County sheriff, who oversees the jail in Sparta.

A letter posted on the Board’s public website (HERE) says the judge’s actions threatened confidence in the judicial system.

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TN auditors find troubles at CoreCivic prisons

A state comptroller’s audit has found several problems at private prisons operated for the state of Tennessee by CoreCivic, previously known as Corrections Corporation of America. Short staffing at Trousdale Turner Correctional Center, the newest and largest prison in the state, is a major focus, but there’s also criticism of operations at Whiteville Correctional Facility and Hardeman County Correctional Center.

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TV station gets bed bugs from prison (via mail)

Two inmates at South Central Correctional Center, a prison in Wayne County operated by CoreCivic under contract with the state of Tennessee, mailed WSMV TV a letter containing dead bed bugs said to be collected inside the facility.

From the Nashville station’s report:

News 4 took them to Belmont University professor and entomologist Dr. Steven Murphree.

“I can tell it’s a bed bug. I just haven’t seen one that is so large like that,” Murphree said.

The letters sent to our newsroom said the bed bug problem in the mental health building has been going on for a year. They say while employees do spray once in a while, the spray doesn’t work.

…The inmates say when a former staff member alerted CoreCivic to the issue, they said he was unqualified to identify a bed bug.

…Jonathan Burns, the spokesperson for CoreCivic sent News 4 this statement:

The health and safety of our employees and the individuals entrusted to our care is our top priority. CoreCivic received a report concerning the possible presence of bedbugs at South Central Correctional Center in August 2017. Facility leadership moved aggressively to address the issue.

Within 24 hours of receiving the initial report, the facility was professionally inspected and treated for bedbugs.

TN judge reducing sentences of jail inmates who get vasectomies or anti-pregnancy implants

General Sessions Judge Sam Benningfield of Sparta has authorized 30-day sentence reductions for male inmates at the White County Jail who agree to free vasectomies in White County and women who agree to receive free Nexplanon implants, which prevent pregnancies for up to four years.

WTVF TV in Nashville, which first reported on the judge’s order, signed in May, says 32 women and 38 men have since signed up for the procedures and the accompanying sentence reduction.

“I understand it won’t be entirely successful but if you reach two or three people, maybe that’s two or three kids not being born under the influence of drugs. I see it as a win, win,” (Benningfield) added.

Inmates in the White County jail were also given two days credit toward their jail sentence if they complete a State of Tennessee, Department of Health Neonatal Syndrome Education Program. The class aimed to educate those who are incarcerated about the dangers of having children while under the influence of drugs.

Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Tennessee, says the “coerced contraception” program is unconstitutional.

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Second state prison inmate pleads guilty to running tax refund scheme behind bars

A second Tennessee prison inmate has pleaded guilty to filing bogus federal income tax returns using the names of other prisoners and collecting tax refunds that, for the two men combined, total more than $310,000, reports the News Sentinel.

 Larry Steven Covington Jr., 38, pleaded guilty Wednesday in U.S. District Court to conspiring to defraud the IRS while serving time in a Tennessee penitentiary and using fellow inmates’ Social Security numbers he apparently purloined…. Career criminal James Glenn Collins pleaded guilty in December 2014 to a similar scam, and court records suggest he may have taught Covington the ropes in deceiving the IRS.

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