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New Director of Tennessee Corrections Institute Faces Conflict of Interest

The new executive director of the Tennessee Corrections Institute (TCI), an agency that oversees standards, inspections and certification of the state’s jails, faces an inherent conflict of interest in certifying the Wilson County Jail, as that county’s sheriff is her husband.

Despite being made aware of the conflict, Governor Bill Haslam appointed Beth Ashe to the director’s position. Supporters of Ashe say she is the most qualified for the $80,000-a-year job: She is a former Louisiana sheriff and worked with the Tennessee Sheriff’s Association to develop a victim notification system that alerts victims when offenders are released, transferred or escape.

However, her marriage to Wilson County Sheriff Terry Ashe is the greatest concern to those worried about conflicts of interest. “Her agency is responsible for inspecting and certifying her husband’s jail,” noted attorney Jerry Gonzalez, who has represented prisoners in civil litigation, including some who challenged conditions at the Wilson County Jail. “You don’t have to be a rocket scientist or an ethical philosopher to recognize that that is an inherent conflict of interest.”

In her new position at TCI, Ashe will supervise trainers and inspectors charged with upholding standards for administration, personnel, security, discipline, cleanliness, food services, visitation policies, programs, medical care and other matters at county jails.
Decertification raises the possibility of lawsuits, higher insurance premiums and even loss of funding for housing state prisoners.

Gonzalez once represented a mistreated prisoner held at the Wilson County Jail. “If they go in and inspect the jail and see [] they’re not adequately treating inmates, is the wife going to threaten the husband to decertify his jail?” he asked.

Ashe dismissed such criticism, saying TCI’s board makes final decisions on jail certification issues. “I don’t see the connection,” she said. “I answer to the board of control, so they give me my direction.”

Davidson County Sheriff Daron Hall, former chairman of TCI’s control board, supported Ashe’s appointment. “It makes me feel comfortable that the board ... is who makes decisions about what is found in those institutions.”

However, John Lachs, a professor of ethical philosophy at Vanderbilt University, said Ashe never should have been appointed. “The obvious first thing to do is to not even create this perception of a conflict of interest. You just avoid it,” he was quoted as saying in an August 22, 2011 news report.

Source: The Tennessean

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