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By Chris Gregory, Managing Editor

The head of the Trousdale Turner Correctional Center acknowledged to lawmakers last week that the state has fined the prison over $2 million since the start of 2018.

Trousdale Turner was the subject of a scathing audit by the state comptroller’s office released last November that cited staffing problems, poor management, gang problems and multiple violations of TDOC policy at the prison.

“Trousdale Turner Correctional Center management’s continued noncompliance with contract requirements and department policies challenges the department’s ability to effectively monitor the private prison,” the audit stated.

Chris Gregory / Hartsville Vidette

Both CoreCivic CEO Damon Hininger and Warden Russell Washburn testified last Tuesday before the House’s Government Operations Committee during hearings on a bill to reauthorize the Tennessee Department of Corrections. The bill passed during a second hearing Monday afternoon after being amended to a two-year reauthorization rather than four years.

Additionally, the bill requires TDOC to provide an update on addressing findings in the November audit by the end of 2018 and calls for another audit by the comptroller’s office later this year.

“(Those fines) were largely due to vacancies and some medical discrepancies,” Washburn told the committee.

According to information provided to The Vidette by TDOC, the Trousdale Turner facility paid $322,059 in fines through December 2017, with an additional $2,245,250 in pending fines as of the end of March.

“I take full responsibility for some of the challenges we’ve had at Trousdale Turner,” Hininger added. “Since we opened the facility, we’ve had a real challenge to find labor – not only for correctional but for medical staff.”

Hininger noted an increase in pay at the prison and said TTCC was the highest-paying prison in the state.

“We take all allegations seriously,” Hininger said. “Some of the things raised today, we’ll follow up on too.”

At a hearing in December, lawmakers blasted both CoreCivic and the Hartsville prison for the failings listed in the audit. Lawmakers at that time spoke of reauthorizing TDOC for one year only.

“When are we ever going to hold these people accountable and make them address their issues or get out of the business?” committee member Rep. Bo Mitchell (D-Nashville) said of CoreCivic.

“I can’t imagine a committee extending the Department of Correction four years, when there’s no evidence any of the issues raised by the comptroller have been remedied,” added committee member Mike Stewart (D-Nashville).

Former TDOC Commissioner Steve Norris testified that more oversight made for greater improvement during his tenure and urged lawmakers to continue to hold the prison industry accountable.

Family members of current and former inmates also testified before the committee.

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