Skip navigation

PLN associate editor quoted in TV report on violence in TN prisons

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

Is state prison violence accurately reported?

Posted: Oct 26, 2012 5:24 PM CDT Updated: Oct 26, 2012 7:06 PM CDT

Reported by Jennifer Johnson

NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV)- There's questions about whether or not violent incidents that occur at the state's prisons are being accurately reported.

An audit released in September on the Department of Correction showed five areas of major weakness.

One of which was the inconsistencies in how the department reports violence and major disturbances within the institution.

Some lawmakers there's an atmosphere of secrecy about what's truly going on at state prisons.

More than 20,000 criminals are incarcerated in Tennessee. There's a growing cry from inmates that the same violent crimes being committed on the outside are happening on the inside too.

"The general consensus is that violence is going up in the state prison system. There are more assaults, more staff being injured, but we don't necessarily take that information at face value," said Alex Friedmann, the associate director of the Human Rights Defense Center.

Friedmann is a former inmate himself who spent months trying to prove what inmates have been saying - that violence is up.

"There needs to be better reporting of the violent incidents and how they're being reported," said Friedmann.

Over the past five years, violence has increased 70 percent, said the audit.

The audit also found there could be inconsistencies in the reporting of violent incidents, meaning these numbers could be all wrong.

"The numbers aren't good. They could actually be worse because there's nobody saying, 'Hey, is this actually correct or not?'" said State Rep. Mike Turner.

Turner used to be a part of the oversight committee that made sure the Department of Correction was run safely and efficiently. However, the committee was disbanded in 2011 to save state money.

"When nobody is overseeing what you're doing, you can get away with anything, you can make your own reports. You can write up what you want to write up. There's no accountability," said Turner.

In 1985, that lack of accountability eventually led to prison riots and murders that led the federal government to intervene. Some lawmakers fear it could happen again.

"We had a lawsuit. We had a court order. We're headed back to the same thing if we don't get a handle on what we're doing. It's almost like pulling teeth to find out what's going on, and that's the problem," said Turner.

In the audit, the department said it would have all of these reporting incidents cleared up and implemented in every prison by Oct. 1. As of Friday, it's still under review.

In the meanwhile, correctional officers are no longer allowed to enter any incidents into the computer without permission from a supervisor.

[Minor correction made by HRDC staff]