By Chris Gregory, Managing Editor

The warden of Trousdale County’s prison said things at the facility were “settling down” during last week’s meeting of the Hartsville/Trousdale County Chamber of Commerce.

Blair Leibach, who heads operations at the Trousdale Turner Correctional Center, was the guest speaker last Tuesday. Leibach took over as warden in March 2016, two months after the facility opened.

Since opening, the CoreCivic (formerly CCA) prison has been the subject of numerous complaints by inmates and family members regarding a number of issues, including understaffing and untreated medical concerns. For a time, the state stopped sending prisoners to the 2,552-bed prison, the largest in Tennessee.

Blair Leibach

The warden said problems had been addressed, while adding that many of the prison’s issues stemmed from an “sophisticated inmate population and an inexperienced staff.”

“Probably 85 percent of my staff has just over a year in corrections,” Leibach said. “That’s one of the things that makes a startup so difficult. Plus, when you open a new facility, people (at other prisons) are going to send you what they don’t want.”

“The population at the facility was initially a little rough. We are slowly but surely changing a culture.”

Leibach noted the company had offered better incentives to retain staff, including greater starting pay, referral and sign-on bonuses and relocation packages. The warden said an outside security company, G4S, had been sending staff to work at TTCC, but added that contract has expired and non-CoreCivic personnel are no longer working on site.

“We’ve got staff that understand what the processes, the policies, are and are enforcing those, and the inmate population is coming to realize they can’t get away with things they used to get away with,” the warden said.

Leibach said his view of corrections had changed considerably over a career dating to the 1980s.

“I’ve come to understand these individuals are people. We have an obligation as corrections professionals to give these individuals tools to be successful when they reenter society,” Leibach said.

Leibach said TTCC had implemented programs – both educational and vocational – to help inmates make the eventual transition to life outside prison. There are also drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs, and programs teaching social life skills, to learn how to be productive citizens once released.

Leibach praised former Trousdale County Elementary principal Johnny Kerr, who now heads educational programs at the prison.

According to the warden, the prison currently has around 500 inmates utilizing the educational programs and has a capacity for 700.

“John has done a tremendous job with those students. We’re seeing more involvement, more motivation from the inmate population,” Leibach said.

While noting previous bad publicity, Leibach said he was proud of the work his staff has done in turning things around.

“It takes its toll, but people are there giving 150 percent every single day to make sure the mission is carried out.”

Reach Chris Gregory at 615-374-3556 or cgregory@hartsvillevidette.com.