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Article about Tennessee CoreCivic death rate that mentions HRDC

Jackson Sun, Jan. 28, 2020.


Hardeman County Correctional Facility officers found Albert Dorsey unresponsive in his cell on Sept. 14. Less than an hour later, he was pronounced dead.

Dorsey's death was first called in as an attempted suicide, according to the county medical examiner's report. He was in his cell alone, and "no one else had access," according to notes scrawled in the report's margins.

According to Dorsey's recently released autopsy report, he was killed. An investigation is ongoing. 

Dorsey, 60, is the fourth incarcerated person killed at Hardeman County Correctional Facility since October 2014.

The prison, a minimum- to medium-security facility run by private prison corporation CoreCivic, accounts for more than 30% of all recorded homicides in Tennessee prisons over the past five years, despite housing just 9% of Tennessee’s inmates. 

The rest of CoreCivic’s Tennessee prisons aren’t much different: The corporation’s four Tennessee facilities hold roughly 35% of the state’s prison population but accounted for about 63% of the state’s prison homicides. 

A Jackson Sun review of five years of data reveals that even when controlled for similar inmate populations, the homicide rate at CoreCivic-run Tennessee prisons is more than twice the homicide rate of prisons run by the Tennessee Department of Correction. 

"Even one death in our facilities is too many, and we're always working to improve," CoreCivic spokesperson Amanda Gilchrist wrote in response to CoreCivic's homicide statistics. 

Smaller population, more than twice the homicide rate

The comparatively high rate of homicides in CoreCivic's Tennessee facilities has been scrutinized before. 

The Human Rights Defense Center and the No Exceptions Prison Collective published a statement in July that used average total population counts from March 2014 through June 2019 to determine that CoreCivic's homicide rate during that time was more than four times higher than that of TDOC. 

CoreCivic called the statement "misleading" and issued a statement of its own. The corporation listed several points of contention: 

  • "A facility that holds a higher concentration of inmates convicted of murder or other violent crimes — as is the case with CoreCivic's Tennessee facilities — would be expected to have a higher homicide rate." 
  • "Nearly the entirety of the population that CoreCivic holds is medium-security custody and above," compared with TDOC's population, which it said has less violent offenders. 
  • CoreCivic does not hold female populations, which CoreCivic says are statistically less disposed toward violent crime. 

aking CoreCivic's complaints into consideration, CoreCivic's homicide rate for that period is 1.29 homicides per 1,000 inmates. TDOC's average homicide rate is 0.59 per 1,000 inmates — less than half that of CoreCivic.

 A recent audit of TDOC records by the state comptroller found that the number of inmate homicides may be under-reported in CoreCivic and TDOC prisons.

“We noted several instances where information related to incidents was incorrect, incomplete, or not entered at all,” the audit states. “As a result, information reported to the public, including families of inmates and decision makers, may be incorrect.”

The audit reviewed annual reports containing homicide records and found that TDOC improperly identified the official cause of death for eight of 38 inmates who died in custody between 2017 and 2019.

TDOC data listed the eight deaths as natural causes, but in reality:

  • 5 inmates died due to drug overdose
  • 1 due to suicide
  • 2 due to homicide (the Jackson Sun included these two homicides in its calculations for this report)

Inside the calculations 

CoreCivic runs four facilities in the state: Hardeman County Correctional Facility, Whiteville Correctional Facility, South Central Correctional Facility in Clifton and Trousdale-Turner Correctional Center in Tennessee.

TDOC ranks all except SCCF in Clifton as "minimum to medium" security level, according to a TDOC representative; CoreCivic says its facilities are medium security. 

SCCF is "minimum-to-close," meaning some inmates there require "heightened supervision" due to their offense history. Minimum-security inmates pose the least safety risks, and medium-security inmates have "minor disciplinary issues," according to TDOC

For a more population-specific comparison of homicide rates in TDOC and CoreCivic facilities, The Jackson Sun identified five TDOC prisons with all-male populations, under minimum-to-close and minimum-to-maximum security levels: 

  • Morgan County Correctional Complex 
  • Northeast Correctional Complex in Johnson County
  • Northwest Correctional Complex in Lake County
  • Riverbend Maximum Security Institution in Nashville
  • Turney Center Industrial Complex in Hickman County

These five TDOC prisons had populations with similar percentages of offenders with convictions for homicide, kidnapping, sex offenses and assault. 

Over the five-year period, 47% of people in CoreCivic's four facilities were convicted of these violent offenses, compared with 49% of the population in the five TDOC prisons.

In Dorsey’s death, unanswered questions 

Publicly available details surrounding Dorsey's death are sparse and ambiguous. 

Records show Dorsey was serving a life sentence at HCCF after a conviction of first-degree premeditated murder in 2007.

Dorsey is also listed on the Tennessee sex offender registry and was sentenced to 10 years in prison for a 1990 conviction of criminal attempt to commit aggravated rape.

Correction officers at the prison last saw him alive during a headcount at around 10 a.m. on Sept. 14. A CoreCivic representative said in September that staff found Dorsey unconscious after Dorsey's cellmate called an officer for assistance.  

Dorsey was strangled with a bedsheet, according to the autopsy report. A cellmate who was not named in the autopsy records reportedly later confessed to killing Dorsey. 

It's not clear how many cellmates Dorsey had, who was in the room with him when he was strangled, or if anyone faces charges in connection with his death.

The investigation report that noted Dorsey was in his cell alone is not dated or signed. The report states that Dorsey had no defensive wounds, just a ligature mark around his neck, and that his death was ultimately considered a homicide.

A representative for the West Tennessee Regional Forensic Center declined to clarify the notes made on that report, some of which contradict information reported by CoreCivic immediately after the death. If Dorsey was alone in his cell when he was found unresponsive, it's not clear how his cellmate was able to leave the cell after allegedly strangling him. 

CoreCivic spokesperson Amanda Gilchrist declined to comment, citing the ongoing nature of the investigation. U.S. District Attorney Mark Davidson did not respond to multiple requests for comment.