Well, well, well, imagine our surprise when we received an email message from Ryan Gustin, the Public Affairs Manager of CoreCivic, the outfit that operates the Trousdale Turner Correctional Center in Tennessee, in response to an interview about the prison that Hard Crackers published on June 4th. Our interview was with the wife of a man who had spent months inside for a parole violation. During that time, the prison racked up the highest number of COVID cases—almost 1400 out of a total population of 2,500—in the country. As we read the email, it struck us that CoreCivic would like people to believe that it’s running a chain of quality hospitals disguised as prisons. Mr. Austin asked that we correct and update our story. We will not do so and stand by our initial account. But in order to give readers a chance to see how slick these vultures can be, we’ve excerpted some of the key points and edited the language for brevity. (The whole message went on for about four pages). We encourage readers to go back to the June 4th interview to see what the man is talking about in context.
I wanted to reach out to you about the story, Doing Time in Trousdale is a Death Sentence! Tennesseans Speak Out, written by the Hard Crackers Editor, which was published on June 4. We understand that it was an interview format, but it includes several false and misleading statements about our company, CoreCivic, and the Trousdale Turner Correctional Center (TTCC). We ask that you update the story with corrected or clarified information appropriate to each instance.
As you know, the COVID-19 pandemic has made it more important than ever, particularly when dealing with essential government services, to accurately report the facts on the ground. We’re strongly encouraging reporters to vet their sources and validate their allegations with the same high standards with which we’re providing responsive information. The allegations the interviewee, Susan, references are not based on fact and are being shared by an individual who has not been inside TTCC since the onset of this pandemic.
The opening paragraph states, “Like many prisons around the nation, the COVID-19 outbreak in Trousdale was initially ignored by the top officials in the DOC and the state’s Health Department.”
This is false. Since even before any confirmed cases of COVID-19 at TTCC, we have rigorously followed the guidance of local, state and federal health authorities, as well as our government partner, Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC). We have responded to this unprecedented situation appropriately, thoroughly and with care for the safety and well-being of those entrusted to us and our communities.
The following are some of the interviewee’s assertions that we would like to refute:
About food not being fit for human consumption:
At no point was commissary ever taken away. The delivery of commissary items may have been slightly delayed due to issues related to COVID-19, but this service was never stopped for an extended period of time.
With regard to the claim that TTCC inmates have received food from containers marked ‘not fit for human consumption,’ this is patently false. It’s important to note that CoreCivic is committed to providing high quality, compassionate treatment to all those in our care. All of the menu items have been reviewed by a registered dietician for nutritional content and been approved by our government partner, TDOC. As of today, the kitchen at TTCC is fully operational and is preparing three hot meals per day for those in our care. No inmates, contractors or staff assigned to the kitchen are permitted to work with symptoms and/or confirmed COVID-19 positive.
About a claim that the Center tolerated rapes:
…… There are multiple options to report allegations including (but not limited to) using the PREA hotline numbers posted in facilities, notifying a staff member either verbally or in writing, and contacting CoreCivic’s Ethics and Compliance hotline and website.
It should also be noted that “solitary confinement” or being “sent to the hole” does not exist at our facilities. We do have various security levels and safety needs for restrictive housing, but this should not be confused with “solitary confinement.”
About a lack of medical attention:
This is false. At TTCC, our CoreCivic health services team takes seriously their role and responsibility to provide high-quality healthcare to individuals in our care. The TTCC health services team follows both CoreCivic’s standards for medical care and the standards set forth by TDOC. TTCC’s licensed medical staff are onsite and available 24/7 to provide high-quality care for anyone who needs it. Medical care is available to all inmates daily.
About families not being told about relatives being hospitalized:
We have guidelines in place for when we are make emergency contact. At any point that an inmate is transferred to a nearby hospital and admitted with a life threatening illness or injury, notifications are made to the inmate’s emergency contact, whether that’s a family member or loved one. If an inmate is transferred to a nearby hospital for a non-life threatening illness, injury, or medical observation, this often does not trigger a notification to their emergency contact, per the policy.
About a severe lack of food because food staff had been infected early on:
This is false. Inmates receive three meals a day. As stated above, all of the menu items served at TTCC have been reviewed by a registered dietician for nutritional content and been approved by our government partner, TDOC. At various times while TTCC had COVID-19 cases within the facility, box meals were used to mitigate the spread of the virus. While we did have one of our food service staff test positive for COVID-19, they were not the first positive case at the facility.
Editors: The letter goes on and on in similar fashion. There will come a time when justice is served to those who run and profit from places like Trousdale. In the meantime, let’s not forget what’s been going on behind those damn gates.