Audit findings released Tuesday by the state comptroller’s office were heavily critical of conditions at CoreCivic’s Hartsville prison.
The Trousdale Turner Correctional Center was cited in the report for “noncompliance with contract requirements and department policies” and also said that staffing reports at the prison “may not be reliable.”
The audit raised questions about the oversight being provided by the Tennessee Department of Corrections at the facility, which opened in January 2016.
File photo / Hartsville Vidette
“This report goes back to July 2014 and, as we’ve acknowledged previously, there were challenges with bringing the Trousdale Turner Correctional Center up to full speed after its opening. We’ve worked hard to address the challenges we’ve faced, and while we still have work to do, we are making progress,” CoreCivic spokeswoman Amanda Gilchrist said in a statement regarding the audit.
“For example, we’ve significantly increased pay to attract and retain employees, with the starting salary at Trousdale now more than $16 per hour. We’re also offering immediate signing bonuses and relocation bonuses to make sure we’re an attractive option in a competitive Tennessee labor market.”
According to the report, Trousdale Turner had unstaffed posts defined as “critical” on several days, had a roster that did not match state-approved staffing patterns and was consistently short-staffed.
Critical positions are defined as ones that would jeopardize the security or safety of the facility if left unstaffed.
Lack of staffing has been a near-constant criticism of Trousdale Turner since its opening, especially in the number of guards. For a time after opening, CoreCivic contracted with a third party to fill positions – a practice which ceased last year, according to past reports.
Analysis also indicated instances of officers working 16 hours or more at a time and noted a lack of staffing rosters that were requested by auditors.
RELATED LINK: State comptroller’s audit
Another finding cited “multiple instances of noncompliance” with state policies at Trousdale Turner, including a lack of grievance and sick call forms. Also, only one of four pods had instructions for obtaining medical care posted, which is required by TDOC policy.
In its response, TDOC noted a lack of monitoring staff and having a single contract monitor at the facility. The contract monitor is charged with ensuring compliance with policies, contract provisions and directives from TDOC.
CoreCivic received a five-year, $276 million contract to operate Trousdale Turner. State law essentially allows for only one private prison in Tennessee, but Trousdale County contracted with CoreCivic and serves as a pass-through with county government paying CoreCivic after receiving the money from the state.
The audit also notes that the mix of inmates transferred to TTCC could be responsible for some issues, citing “those with disciplinary issues, inmate compatibility issues, or … gang affiliation.” Former warden Blair Leibach noted at a Chamber of Commerce luncheon earlier this year that when a new facility opens, existing prisons tend to transfer their problem inmates.
“Instability in leadership” was also noted, with Trousdale Turner currently on its third warden since opening.
“TDOC recently conducted a follow-up audit at Trousdale Turner and while we are still awaiting the final report findings, we are encouraged by the initial feedback and look forward to its release,” Gilchrist said.
“We appreciate the strong oversight by our government partners and remain committed to operating safe, secure facilities with high-quality reentry programming.”
Mary Mancini, chair of the Tennessee Democratic Party, issued the following statement:
“We didn’t need an audit to know private prisons are immoral and should not exist. There should never be a financial incentive for incarceration. This audit confirms there is insufficient oversight of the private contractors and that outsourcing is not about efficiency, but about using public dollars to create corporate profits. The Tennessee legislature should end the use of private prisons immediately.”
County Mayor Carroll Carman told The Vidette he wanted to review the audit findings before commenting.
The complete audit is available online at comptroller.tn.gov/repository/SA/pa17275.pdf.
Reach Chris Gregory at 615-374-3556 or firstname.lastname@example.org.