Debrief from TDOC Family and Friends Forum
By Alex Friedmann- PLN ( Prison Legal News)
On November 14, 2013 the TDOC held a Family and Friends Forum in Nashville. This was the second of three forums being held throughout the state; the first was in West TN and the next one will be held in East TN.
The forum was a gala four-hour event with most of the top brass from TDOC central office in attendance, including Commissioner Schofield, Assistant Commissioners and the wardens from most facilities statewide. Also attending were representatives from TDOC contractors, including Global Tel*Link (phones), JPay (money deposits) and medical officials. Notably, no one from the Board of Paroles attended. Security was provided by TDOC SORT team members.
Various TDOC officials gave presentations, including the Commissioner and Assistant Commissioner Tony Parker. Prisoners’ family members and other attendees were then allowed to ask questions during a 45-minute open comment period, followed by a period where they could meet and speak with individual TDOC officials and staff.
While I had a number of questions, I only asked one during the open comment period, related to delays in medication renewals for prisoners whose prescriptions run out. This is apparently a problem at a number of facilities. The response was that the changeover to a new medical provider, Centurion, should result in changes, and Centurion is working to improve services. The TDOC stated that while some medications may not be renewed in a timely manner, “if the medication is vital, they’ll get it.”
One family member addressed rumors that the TDOC will be moving prisoners to various facilities based on the amount of time left to serve, and Commissioner Schofield verified that this was correct. TDOC and CCA facilities will be designated as “time-building” (10 or more years left to serve), “programming” (3 to 10 years left to serve) and “fast track” (3 years or less to serve). Some prisons will be less affected than others – e.g., RMSI and DSNF are specialty facilities. The Commissioner noted that some prisoners may not like the new policy, but said it’s important to assign them to facilities where they can receive the programs they need to increase their chances of making parole and going home, with priority going to prisoners nearing release.
I later obtained a list of how TDOC and CCA facilities will be designated under the new housing policy: Time building (10+ years) facilities will include NECX, RMSI, TCIX main, WTSP and SCCF. Programming facilities (3-10 years) include CBCX, MLCC, TPW, BCCX, NWCX main, MCCX, HCCF, WCCF. “Fast track” facilities (3 years or less) include TPW annex, BCCX women, MCCX annex, NWCX annex, SCCF annex.
During an individual conversation with Commissioner Schofield and AC Parker after the open comment period, I addressed the following issues:
Certain medications have been removed from the TDOC’s formulary (list of medications provided through the clinic) and placed on the commissary for purchase. However, some prisoners who were previously prescribed those medications can not afford to buy them in the quantities they need, or can’t afford them at all. Additionally, at the time the formulary change was made, the TDOC’s 14-member Pharmacy and Therapeutics Committee included 10 members employed by private contractors (CCA and Corizon). Thus, there are concerns that members of the committee had a profit motivation to cut costs by removing meds from the formulary and making prisoners pay for them through the commissary, to the detriment of prisoners’ medical needs. I’ll follow-up with the TDOC on this issue, as it wasn’t adequately addressed at the forum.
I mentioned that 8 states have banned commission payments from prison phone service providers (like Global Tel), and that Tennessee should consider this approach because it results in reduced phone rates that facilitate greater communication between prisoners and their families, thereby leading to improved outcomes after prisoners are released and lower recidivism. The FCC recently ordered rate caps for interstate (long distance) prison phone calls, but the order does not affect intrastate (in-state) calls. The Commissioner and his staff were aware of this issue, and stated the Global Tel contract will be rebid soon and they would take this into consideration. Then again, the TDOC receives about $2.5 million annually in prison phone service commissions, so they may not consider it very seriously. I’ll follow-up with the Commissioner on this issue, too.
I also asked about the controlled movement policy in which prisoners can not keep their hands in their pockets, even during very cold weather. Assistant Commissioner Parker stated that while not all prisoners have been issued gloves, they would be able to receive gloves upon request. Thus, if you or anyone else you know have requested gloves and been denied, please advise so I can inform AC Parker accordingly.
I also made the following suggestion to AC Parker concerning daily cell inspections: Rather than requiring all prisoners to stand by their doors until all cells are inspected, each prisoner could be allowed to return to his cell after their cell is inspected. This would alleviate prisoners from having to stand by their doors during the cell inspection process, and would also improve security since not all prisoners would be out of their cells at the same time in case an altercation occurs – such as the incident at WTSP when 8 or 9 prisoners ganged up on Warden Lester and his staff during a cell inspection, resulting in a melee, use of pepper spray, etc. AC Parker didn’t seem to think this was an issue in terms of prisoners standing by their doors until all cells are inspected.
I additionally mentioned the issue of mentally ill prisoners being placed in solitary confinement due to behavior that is the result of their mental illness. Commissioner Schofield stated this had been addressed by the TDOC 18 months ago, and they have policies in place to deal with mentally ill prisoners.
Further, I noted that CCA had been held in contempt of court in Idaho for violating the terms of a settlement agreement, specifically due to understaffing one of their facilities in that state and submitting falsified staffing records to the Idaho DOC. I asked whether the TDOC is adequately monitoring CCA-operated facilities to ensure that similar problems with understaffing or false reporting are not occurring in Tennessee. The Commissioner said the CCA contracts are
Lastly, I addressed the issue of delays in JPay money deposits sent in via money orders, which do not incur a fee. There is a perception that mailed-in payments are deliberately delayed to encourage prisoners’ families to use phone or online payment options – which have a significant fee – to ensure more timely money deposits. I spoke with the TDOC’s Financial Officer about this, and suggested that he obtain from JPay statistical data on the length of time between the receipt of money orders and when deposits are made in prisoners’ accounts. The TDOC should be able to request such data from JPay.
As a concluding note, only around 20-30 people attended the forum; there were far more TDOC staff present than prisoners’ family members.
The next forum is scheduled for Thursday, December 19, 2013, 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., 278th Armored Cavalry Regiment, 3330 Sutherland Avenue, Knoxville, TN 37919;
family & friends are encouraged to attend!
Tennessee CURE had this to say:
We are aware of the commissioners plans and are trying to organize a campaign to bring his plans to the light of day. We understand the hardship such mass transfers would have on innocent family and children of Prisoners. You can surly help by contacting all your friends and contacts and ask them to call their local state representative and the Governors Office not one or two phone calls but many every day .
By keeping up the pressure this way the commissioner will have to back down. Also ask your Church to help. Remember these moves will have a negative effect on the family’s and children of prisoners forced to move away from home.
Andy and Linda Polk
CALL Governor Haslam and let him know these transfers are not needed and are a hardship on families!!
Office of Governor Bill Haslam
Nashville, TN 37243