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PLN helps break story on prison labor abuses at CCA prison in TN

WSMV Channel 4, Sept. 18, 2015.

Undercover video helped lead to arrests of woodworking instructors

Posted: Sep 17, 2015 9:13 PM EDT Updated: Sep 17, 2015 9:53 PM EDT


Jail inmates can be eager to learn a trade behind bars, something they can use on the outside, but at one Nashville lockup, the woodworking class may have been helping the instructors make money.

Three former employees of the privately run CCA jail are due in court next week, all of them charged with "abusing" inmate labor.

In undercover video obtained by the I-Team, you can see how the prison inmates helped set up the sting, which led to the three arrests.

What you see in the video is what you might see on a typical Saturday at the Nashville Fairgrounds, shoppers browsing through rows of flea market booths.

This video takes place at a booth that sells handmade wooden items, some of them decorated with logos. They're from a company called Stand Firm Design. They company's website shows they sell cornhole games and other items, saying they're a group of retired contractors.

However, what their website doesn't say, and what you won't learn at the booth, is that their woodworkers are really unpaid inmates, the very inmates the company's owners supervise behind prison walls.

Authorities say three part-owners of Stand Firm Design all worked as instructors in a building trades class at the Corrections Corporation of America's jail in Antioch. 

Robert Hill, Stephen Binkley and Roy Napper are now all charged with keeping the profits from the sale of items made by free inmate labor. 

The things the inmates make in prison aren't supposed to be for sale. There's a specific code section that says so, which is what helped expose the scheme.

The inmates worked in conjunction with nonprofit Prison Legal News, which is who made the undercover video.

The inmates in the woodworking shop secretly wrote their names and that code section on the items they made, which is writing you can only see when the items are taken apart.

Inmates Larry Stephney and Charles Brew are the ones who inscribed their names and code. Both have since been released and are in halfway houses. They declined to be interviewed.

A CCA spokesman said Hill and Binkley are on administrative leave. Napper had already retired. 

CCA wrote in a statement, "The actions as alleged are reprehensible and represent a clear violation of CCA's Code of Conduct." 

All three former employees are out on bond; their made-to-order business unlikely to be filling customers' orders using free inmate labor. 

Channel 4 confirmed Napper teaches history part-time at Nashville State Community College. No one answered the door when Channel 4 went to Napper's house on Thursday.




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