By Wyatt Massey
Chattanooga Times Free Press
In the past two years, the Tennessee Department of Correction repeatedly failed to provide medical care for inmates, properly investigate sexual abuse and maintain necessary staffing levels, according to an audit released Friday by the Tennessee comptroller’s office.
The scheduled audit, spanning October 2017 to July 2019, included 18 citations for three state-run prisons and three facilities privately operated by CoreCivic. The Department of Correction oversees nearly 22,000 people in its 14 prisons, four of which are controlled by CoreCivic – including Hartsville’s Trousdale Turner Correctional Center.
The report details how prisons in Tennessee failed to properly manage inmates in prison, care for staff and track formerly incarcerated individuals, as well as how leadership failed to manage prisons, leading to serious security risks for staff and inmates.
The department has addressed or is working on issues raised in the report and the state maintains safe prisons, Department of Correction Commissioner Tony Parker said in a statement.
“The majority of the findings can be attributed to technology challenges, delayed reporting, and the staff shortages that our state, like many others, currently experience,” Parker said.
Some of the failures in meeting medical needs included not including transferring inmate medical records and medications when they were moved. Officers did not perform mental health checks. Medical contractors with the department are understaffed and also allowed to self-report areas of good performance to offset other failures to contract requirements, the report said.
In the two years of the audit, 171 inmates died, including 12 suicides. Both the state-run and private prisons in Tennessee failed to create or follow guidelines for collecting and reporting data on inmate deaths, assaults and injuries, the report found.
Prisons visited by the auditors often worked with fewer correctional officers than required, which endangers inmates and other staff. Low staffing numbers is an issue that has appeared on multiple audits of the correction system.
A CoreCivic spokesperson said “allegations of sexual misconduct are promptly, thoroughly and objectively investigated” and reviewed within 72 hours.
However, the audit found that state- and private-run prisons did not properly record allegations from inmates and staff, hurting the ability to investigate alleged abuse.
The department improved how it monitored people on probation and parole compared to problems in the three previous reports on the department. However, the report still found department officers were not properly monitoring the approximately 40,000 people on parole or probation.
Half of the six facilities visited destroyed prison-related information without following state guidelines, and one facility destroyed security footage within 14 days instead of following its own 90-day guideline, the report said.
The results of the audit “require many improvements,” Comptroller Justin Wilson said in a news release.
The report was to be presented Monday at the Joint Government Operations Subcommittee on Judiciary and Government in Nashville.