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Audits of Tennessee DOC Reveal Deficiencies

The Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC) and several of its contractors violated state law, according to two audit reports issued by the Comptroller of the Treasury’s Division of State Audit.

According to an April 2009 financial and compliance audit, the TDOC failed to generate employee separation notices within 24 hours of separation as required by state law.
Auditors found that 53 percent of the reviewed notices were filed an average of 10 to 18 days late, and as many as 23 days late in some cases. Such delays could negatively impact former employees’ unemployment benefits.

TDOC management also failed to assess and mitigate “the risks associated with information systems security, which increases the risk of fraudulent activity,” auditors found. While not revealing the “specific vulnerability identified,” auditors determined that TDOC staff “did not always follow the department’s Management Information Services Procedure Manual in order to maintain proper information systems security.” TDOC officials claimed they had “been closely monitoring these issues ... for over two years.”

Tennessee’s Financial Integrity Act requires agency heads to “submit a letter acknowledging responsibility for maintaining the internal control system of the agency” to the Comptroller of the Treasury by June 30 of each year. In 2006 the TDOC did not submit its letter until October 4, according to the report.

A separate April 2009 performance audit found non-compliance with the TDOC’s contract with Spectrum Health Systems, Inc. to provide 6-to-9-month comprehensive alcohol and drug treatment programs at six prisons. The audit further revealed miscommunication and confusion concerning contract amendments, plus a lack of penalties, short of termination, for noncompliance. Auditors recommended that future contracts include non-compliance consequences such as liquidated damages.

TDOC policy requires intake health examinations within fourteen days of arrival for all prisoners. However, the Tennessee Offender Management Information System (TOMIS) revealed that “more than half (51.79%) of the health intake examinations were completed late or not at all.”

Auditors also noted that the TDOC had been tracking recidivism since 2001, but found “weaknesses in the methods used ... for tracking and measuring the recidivism rate.” They concluded that “based on the methods used for calculating and measuring recidivism, the recidivism rate appears to be understated as a result of reincarcerations and overstated as a result of counting the number of releases.”

The report recommended that the TDOC use “more than one measure for calculating recidivism to ensure a more accurate recidivism rate.” Additionally, the TDOC should publish its recidivism reports more often than every three to five years, because that “frequency ... impedes the department’s ability to determine an accurate recidivism rate and may reduce the ability to determine the effectiveness of the programs and services offered.”

The auditors repeated a 2003 finding that the TDOC must improve prisoner pre-release services by developing methods of measuring program effectiveness. “Based on the tracking methods, the department cannot adequately determine an accurate success rate of the program,” the report stated.

The audit also documented interesting observations in several areas that did not warrant specific findings.


The TDOC contracts with Nashville-based Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), a private prison company, to operate three facilities that house state prisoners. Tennessee law requires CCA to purchase prisoner clothing from TRICOR, Tennessee’s prison industry program. Auditors found that CCA purchased significantly less clothing than comparable TDOC facilities. In fiscal year 2008, for example, one state-run TDOC facility spent $130,009.53 on prisoner clothing compared with totals of $2,722.65, $9,765.13 and $13,511.83 for the three CCA-operated prisons.

Auditors also noted that First Medical Management, the TDOC’s largest health services contractor, paid over $1.3 million in liquidated damages for contract violations between January 2006 and June 2008.

County Cost Reimbursements

Under the County Correctional Incentives Program (CCIP), counties are reimbursed for housing TDOC prisoners. “During fiscal year 2007, reimbursements to counties totaled over $103 million,” according to the audit report. As previously found, the “county Final Cost Settlements are still not submitted to the department in a timely manner [and] ... this practice can result in underpayments or overpayments to the counties,” auditors concluded.

Guard Turnover

“Systemwide, for fiscal year 2008, the [guard] turnover rate was 28.3%, an increase of 0.8% from the fiscal year 2007 rate of 27.5%, which was already very high,” according to the report. “The department’s employment recruiter stated that the average cost to recruit and train a new correctional officer is approximately $10,000 and it takes ... approximately three years to recover the cost.” Yet 71.5% of prison guards who left in 2007 had two years or less of TDOC employment.

A comparison of Tennessee with fifteen other states indicated that as of July 1, 2007, the TDOC paid newly-hired guards $1,098 below the average salary paid by the other states. “It appears that, given the salary differential, the department will continue to have problems retaining employees,” the auditors noted.

Prisoner Education Opportunities

TDOC prisoners are offered the General Educational Development (GED) test. In 2006, 2007 and 2008, 71%, 74% and 67% of prisoners passed the test, respectively, totaling 1,935 prisoners who obtained GEDs during that time period.

The TDOC also provides a wide array of vocational training programs in all but four short-term prisons. In 2008, Tennessee’s prison system had 1,991 vocational program positions available systemwide.

Additionally, the TDOC “has partnered with two universities to offer college level courses. David Lipscomb University, a private institution in Nashville, offers undergraduate courses at the Tennessee Prison for Women (TPW) .... As of Spring 2008, there has been a 100% retention rate for the TPW students,” the auditors wrote.

“The other partnership is with the University of Tennessee at Martin, resulting from the department’s receipt of an Incarcerated Youth Offenders grant from the U.S. Department of Education. The $292,527 grant is for one year (July 1, 2007 – June 30, 2008) and two subsequent years if funding is appropriated. (The department has received funding for fiscal year 2009).” An average of 230 prisoners were enrolled in college courses systemwide between 2005 and 2008.

TDOC prisoners “may be awarded an Educational Good Time Credit, a one-time credit of 60 days that may be given to an eligible prisoner who successfully receives a General Educational Development diploma, a two- or four-year college degree, or vocational certificates that comprise completion of a job cluster,” according to the audit report.
STG Management

The TDOC began its Security Threat Group (STG) program in 1999. “Once [an] inmate has been confirmed as an STG member, the warden may recommend to the STG Hearing Committee that the inmate be placed in either the STG Phase Program ... or the STG Housing Unit,” the report stated.

“The STG Housing Unit Program ... was started on December 29, 2006, and is capable of housing up to 128 STG inmates,” according to the auditors. “The concept behind the STG Housing Unit is containment. STG members ... are not required to participate in unit programs; however, there is programming available .... Because participation is voluntary, placement in the STG Housing Unit can be an indefinite assignment. If inmates choose to participate in the unit programs, they must complete all programs, remain write-up free, and obtain their GED or documentation stating that they have advanced as far as they can in education. Afterwards, the inmates may renounce their gang affiliation and be placed on STG Monitoring for one year in a general population setting.”

As of April 23, 2008, 97 of 189 suspected STG prisoners had successfully completed the Housing Unit program but some were still subject to the one-year monitoring period, according to the auditors.

The TDOC’s STG Phase Program began in Spring 2000 and houses up to 94 prisoners. “The program ... is a behavior management program geared toward inmates who tend to be problematic. This program is targeted toward inmates who are stepping down from maximum custody following an STG incident or those who have been involved in recent STG activity and have fallen just short of consideration for maximum security placement. The programming ... is delivered in three 90-day phases and uses in-cell workbooks and/or some small-group programming. As inmates successfully complete each phase, some of the privileges that have been taken away are reinstated.”

Phase Program participation “is mandatory, and there are consequences if inmates refuse to participate,” the report noted. Unwillingness or failure to complete the program within 12 months results in disciplinary action and possible transfer to the STG Housing Unit.
Prisoners are “given a maximum of two chances ... to complete the programs.” Two failures result in permanent STG status throughout a prisoner’s present and future incarceration.

In 2006, 54 of 106 prisoners (50.9%) successfully completed the TDOC’s STG program and one-year monitoring period. In 2007, 45 of 97 prisoners (46.4%) completed the program and monitoring. No TDOC prisoners successfully completed the Phase Program and monitoring period in 2008.

In regard to the STG programs, the audit report noted “there are no written goals, no defined percentages, and no up-to-date success/failure rates.”

Sources: TN Division of State Audit, TDOC Financial and Compliance Audit (April 2009); TN Division of State Audit, TDOC Performance Audit (April 2009); Associated Press

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