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PLN comments on staff assault at CoreCivic prison in TN

Hartsville Vidette, Sept. 5, 2019.

Assault raises questions over Trousdale prison conditions

An advocate for prison reform has raised concerns over conditions at Hartsville's Trousdale Turner Correctional Center after a staff member was assaulted by an inmate last week.

On Friday evening, Trousdale County Emergency Services was called to assist at the Hartsville prison after an inmate allegedly assaulted a staff member. The staffer was transported by helicopter to Vanderbilt Medical Center and remains hospitalized. The staffer's condition is unconfirmed, but multiple sources told The Hartsville Vidette the female staffer was sexually assaulted and repeatedly stabbed.

The Tennessee Department of Corrections is conducting an investigation into the incident. Both CoreCivic, which owns the Hartsville prison, and TDOC have repeatedly declined to release details of the attack or comment on the investigation.

The results of the investigation are expected to be forwarded to District Attorney General Tommy Thompson's office for a decision on whether charges are warranted. The inmate's name has also not been released, but he has reportedly been moved out of Trousdale Turner.

Alex Friedmann, the [associate] director of the Human Rights Defense Center, said he has been examining how the privately run prison operates.

"We've looked at state audits that are critical of understaffing and other issues at Trousdale Turner. Details are sometimes hard to come by because CoreCivic tends not to release information to the media or public," Friedmann said.

Friedmann said his records show there have been at least 70 assaults by inmates on CoreCivic staff at Trousdale Turner over the past year, with varying degrees of severity.

The Human Rights Defense Center is a Florida-based nonprofit focusing on issues related to prison systems in the U.S. and Friedmann is based in Nashville, according to the organization's website.

Trousdale Turner has been under scrutiny from the state and prison reform advocates since opening in January 2016. In late 2017, an audit by the state comptroller's office found staffing problems, poor management, gang problems and multiple violations of TDOC policy at the prison.

In a hearing before state lawmakers at that time, Warden Russell Washburn acknowledged the issues with keeping staff at Trousdale Turner. Since then, CoreCivic has increased starting pay to as much as $16.50 for correctional officers -- the highest starting salary of any prison in the state according to company officials.

Washburn also previously told Trousdale County's Prison Oversight Committee the facility was no longer using temporary staff from other CoreCivic facilities to fill positions at Trousdale Turner. That committee could examine last week's incident at its next meeting in October.

CoreCivic has a five-year, $276 million contract to operate the Trousdale Turner Correctional Center. That contract is expected to come up for renewal in 2021.