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PLN associate editor appears in TV report on TN prison violence

Channel 4 WSMV, Jan. 1, 2012.
PLN associate editor appears in TV report on TN prison violence - Channel 4 WSMV 2012

Prison counselor attacked as inmates rebel against new policies

Posted: Nov 09, 2012 9:36 PM CST Updated: Nov 09, 2012 9:48 PM CST


A state prison counselor was beaten so severely he had to be rushed to Vanderbilt University Medical Center with possible life-threatening injuries.

It was a surprise attack from an inmate who should have been locked up.

While the Tennessee Department of Correction confirmed an employee was struck and injured, it came just over a week after the commissioner gave Channel 4 News a tour of the same prison facility to show how safe it is.

During the recent tour of the Riverbend Maximum Security Institution, inmates marched in single file lines with their hands to their sides.

The cells were as organized as Army barracks, and security walked the grounds in what looked like heavy-duty armor.

Things couldn't have looked more safe and under control, and it was all part of new policies Commissioner Derek Schofield proudly brought with him from Georgia to make the state prison system better.

"The offenders will do whatever we want. We enforce the rules," he said.

However, what Channel 4 saw on the tour may not be an accurate picture of how things really operate.

Channel 4 has learned that last Saturday, an inmate counselor not in uniform or protective gear was left to man an entire unit by himself.

The cells were supposed to be locked, but an inmate opened his, jumped the counselor from behind and beat him until a unit manager finally noticed what was happening.

"It seems to indicate that there are systemic problems in the prison system that are not being adequately addressed," said Alex Friedmann, with the Human Rights Defense Center.

Despite a statement from prison officials saying the counselor was simply "hit by an inmate," the beating was so severe it took 38 stitches to repair the damage. Also, the counselor sustained a concussion, and friends say his speech is now slurred from time to time.

"People are getting hurt and injured, and we need to know what's going on in the system. The public deserves to know, and the correctional system needs to acknowledge the problems that are happening so they can fix them," Friedmann said.

Inmates have stated publicly in the past that the rage brewing within them is being fueled by the rigid new policies put in place by Schofield, who took over the department about two years ago.

But it's a concept Schofield believes is all wrong.

"It's not like I'm this guy that's all about the military, paramilitary. It's about accountability," he said. "We've got a responsibility to do our job. That job is to keep these prisons safe and build accountable systems for staff and the offenders."

A source inside the prison told Channel 4 that the locking mechanisms in this particular unit had been malfunctioning in the prior week, and maintenance workers had been trying to fix the problem.

The Department of Correction did not respond to questions about that claim and also rejected our request to view video surveillance of the assault.

In addition, the department declined our request to interview the prison counselor who was injured.