Comments of The Sentencing Project on Restoring Voting Rights in Tennessee

From: The Sentencing Project, Feb 20-21st, 2013:

Tennessee is among the most punitive states in the nation in denying voting rights to citizens who have committed a felony.  In 2010, over 340,000 Tennesseans – 7 percent of the state’s voting-age population – were denied the right to vote because of their criminal history.  Nearly one in five African Americans in Tennessee is disenfranchised.

Moreover, the state is unique in requiring that offenders pay not only all financial obligations but also all outstanding child support arrears before their voting rights are restored – a burden that falls disproportionately on the poor.

Felony disenfranchisement is not only unjust and undemocratic, but it is counterproductive to the goal of increasing public safety.  By clicking here, you can read comments submitted by The Sentencing Project to a Tennessee panel studying how the state might bring more of its citizens into the electoral process rather than excluding them through felony disenfranchisement.

Judge favors plaintiff in private prison case

By AP / Canadian Business | December 01, 2011

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A Nashville judge ruled Thursday that private prison company Corrections Corporation of America must turn over more documents to a magazine that advocates for the rights of prisoners.

CCA had argued that the settlement documents sought by the plaintiff were confidential and handled by the prison’s general counsel, which operates independently and isn’t connected in any way to the state.

But Davidson County Chancellor Claudia Bonnyman ruled once again that CCA is subject to Tennessee’s open records law because it is the equivalent of a government agency, and that no government entity can enter into a confidential settlement.

Alex Friedmann, a former prisoner who is now an editor at Prison Legal News, sent a letter to CCA in April 2007 asking for information on settlements, judgments and complaints against the company.

He sued CCA when the company refused to turn over the information, claiming it wasn’t subject to the state’s open records law. Bonnyman also heard the case in 2008, siding with Friedmann and ordering the company to turn over most of the records.

CCA appealed, arguing once again that it wasn’t subject to the law. The Tennessee Court of Appeals later upheld Bonnyman’s ruling that CCA is the equivalent of a government agency by running state prisons, and is subject to the open records law.

The prison turned over some documents, such as contracts. But Friedmann is still seeking verdicts against the company and settlement agreements with prisoners.

In her ruling Thursday, Bonnyman said the magazine won’t be able to get the documents until an appeal is resolved, and CCA’s attorneys have indicated they will likely appeal.

However, Friedmann said he doesn’t mind waiting because he views the judge’s latest ruling as a victory that sends a message once again that “CCA is considered a public agency when operating prisons and jails, and must comply with the Public Records Act.”

“This ruling provides some much needed transparency to CCA’s operations in Tennessee,” he said. “CCA has fought hard to avoid releasing records that would be public if sought from any government agency that runs prisons or jails.”

The ruling only applies to Tennessee prisons, not federal prisons or other facilities in other states that CCA runs.

CCA houses 75,000 offenders and detainees in more than 60 facilities with more than 80,000 beds — more than half those under private operation in the country, according to its website. Forty-four of the facilities are owned by the company, which employs 17,000 people.

Witness to a Reprehensible and Uncaring Prison System

(from Joe Power-Drutis)

Twenty four hours ago I visited Sr. Jackie Hudson at the Blount County Correctional Facility in Maryville Tennessee, and the information she conveyed was deeply disturbing. By bravely speaking the truth about a reprehensible and uncaring system, Jackie chose to take a personal risk and I want to honor this by passing her message on to you.

This is an account of the struggles of four inmates and their attempts to receive basic medical care.

First is the indomitable and quick-witted (soon to be 84), Jean Gump. Like Bix, Jean’s age and physical presence conceal an interior spirit deeply rooted in the power of love that will always be underestimated by the dark forces so prevalent in our world.

She, like the others, would rather be home with family and friends but is not afraid to pay the price of following the dictates of her conscience. She like the others, consented to going to jail; but, expects these places of confinement to follow the law regarding human rights and rules of imprisonment. But, in the Blount County Correctional Facility, expectations and reality part ways.

Jean is a relatively healthy woman who has obviously taken care of herself; however, she is also under the care of a Nurse Practitioner in Portage Michigan. Jean has been diagnosed with hypertension and carotid artery disease; in other words, the high pressure in her arteries is further complicated by the narrowing of the large carotid artery that feeds her brain. Jean must take one anticoagulant and 2 blood pressure medications to thin her blood and lower her pressure. Failure to do so puts her at high risk for a stroke.

For these chronic conditions she has faithfully taken her medications each day – each day that is until she was remanded to the Blount County Correctional Facility. Though she has made numerous requests for help, she has received no medical assistance, not once has her blood pressure been taken, and she received no medication for nearly 2 weeks. She filled out paperwork for the jail to notify her husband, health care provider and pharmacy; they have received no calls from the jail.

Just for the record, Ralph Hutchison, Erik Johnson and I sang one verse of a less than spectacular barber shop quartet Happy Birthday to You. Moved beyond herself by emotion Jean said, “Don’t give up your day job boys.”
The reality is much the same for 63-year-old Sr. Carol Gilbert. Carol has taken an antihypertensive medication for many years. She too has gone without her medication and no one at the jail has taken her blood pressure.

Three months ago, 76-year-old Sr. Jackie Hudson underwent surgery that left her with residual periodic left-sided chest pain. Several days ago she began to experience severe musculoskeletal pain and made repeated requests for medical assistance. Eventually a nurse arrived and said “Your just one of 500 people here and I am way behind in my work.” Jackie received nothing. That night, many hours after the onset of pain, the night nurse provided her with 2 tabs of Tylenol. Well after this acute onset of pain she was able to receive a “one time” packet of 20 tablets of Tylenol and Ibuprofen due to her indigent status; but was informed she would receive no more. Jackie also suffers from asthma. She was able to take one of her inhalers in with her but is without the needed second one. Jackie also filled out paperwork for the jail to notify Sue Ablao, her health care provider and pharmacy; they also have not received any calls from the jail.

75-year-old Sr. Ardeth Platte is also under the care of a doctor. I do not know the extent of her medical needs but, like Jackie and Jean, Ardeth is receiving no medications or health care.

Though serious, the above matters are straight-forward and easily resolved.
The following is not so.

A woman in the jail experienced a Grand Mal Seizure. Apparently in the early stages of the seizure she was able to tell other inmates a seizure was about to occur, and as the seizure commenced and she was falling they were able to catch her and guide her to the concrete floor.

They called for medical help and the nurse and another woman arrived and stood next to the woman. Several minutes later – while the seizure was still in progress – a half-dozen large men entered the cell block. While a younger guard began yelling at all of the inmates “return to your cells” another of the men kicked the woman repeatedly. Later, inmates reported that kicking a person undergoing a seizure was commonplace, “They think someone is faking it.”

The following day the woman began to experience similar symptoms that occur prior to a seizure and she related to the inmates that another seizure may occur. The inmates called for assistance and a voice over the intercom instructed the inmates to put her on the concrete floor. No staff person, medical or otherwise ever responded. Fortunately the woman’s premonitions did not result in a seizure.

Complicating the health picture even more, the inmates know that, if a medical problem or emergency occurs during the weekend, they are out of luck. No nursing staff are available during the weekend. During weekends, either non medical, non licensed jailers perform nursing duties or inmates get no response at all.

As a LPN I have worked in a number of medical venues over the past 35 years and I have seen nothing to compare with this. How did this high risk, cruel “medical response” become commonplace? These standard operational procedures are not only inhumane; they are illegal.
I wish to share this with you, as I seek guidance and support from leaders in the local community here in East Tennessee about where to go from here.

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Epilogue: As I was being given this information yesterday, prison eyes (cameras) and ears (phone surveillance) were upon us; as we spoke between a wall of glass, I wrote down each detail.

It is important to remember that the playground bully is one filled with fear, and the need to control; but, knowing he/she must be careful to protect themselves from the truth.

I just received phone calls from Joe Gump and Sue Ablao; someone from the Blount County Correctional Facility phoned them today inquiring as to what medications Jean and Jackie were on. They were told that Jean and Jackie’s prescriptions will be filled by day’s end and they will be receiving all of their prescribed medications no later than tomorrow, May 23rd.

Gaile Owens’ Death Sentence Commuted!

Bulletin from the cause: Abolish The Death Penalty!

Go to Cause

Posted By: Nick Janizeh
To: Members in Abolish The Death Penalty!

Good news! Death sentence commuted in Gaile Owens case

Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen today commuted the death sentence of Gaile Owens who had been scheduled for execution on September 28. She was sentenced to death for soliciting the murder of her husband, but her case garnered widespread publicity because of severe abuse she had endured at his hands.

Governor Bredesen cited similar cases as his reason for granting clemency, stating:
As heinous as the crime was, the record of how Tennessee has dealt with similar cases over the last century makes it clear that her death would have been a terrible miscarriage of justice.

Gaile Owens could be eligible for parole as early as 2012.

As always, thank you for your continued support!

Help Save the Life of Gaile Owens!


The Tennessee Supreme Court announced on April 19, that it has denied the commutation request, filed on Friday, Feb. 5, on behalf of Gaile Owens. Gaile’s lawyers have already filed a commutation request with the governor. Gaile would be the first woman executed by the state since Eve Martin was hanged in 1820. She would be the seventh person executed by the state since 2000.


Governor Phil Bredesen is now the only person who can decide to commute Gaile’s sentence of the death penalty to life in prison. It is important now more than ever to show your support for Gaile.

Please make your voice heard by calling or writing Governor Phil Bredesen. Email us at and let us know what you are doing to support Gaile.


* Gaile is the only inmate in Tennessee prison history to receive a death sentence after accepting a prosecutor’s offer to plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence.
* Gaile was diagnosed with battered women’s syndrome, a serious mental disorder that courts have recognized as “a female who is the victim of consistent, severe domestic violence.”
* Gaile’s jurors never heard a word about the physical, emotional and sexual abuse she endured.
* Gaile never testified in her own defense because she wanted to protect her young sons from the details of the sexual and emotional abuse she suffered.
* Despite the abuse she suffered, Gaile is, and always has been, remorseful for causing the murder of her husband.
* Equal justice? A recent media review of nine comparable state cases over the past 25 years found that six have since received full probation or early parole, two others are serving life sentences but entitled to parole hearings, and only one, Gaile, is serving a death sentence.
* Gaile is without question an outstanding inmate at the Tennessee Prison for Women, where she works as a clerk and is loved by staff and peers alike.


Want to take action? You can do several things to help Gaile.

1. Sign the petition at, and encourage others to do the same.

2. Write letters and e-mails to Gov. Bredesen and his legal counsel, Steve Elkins. Ask them to commute Gaile’s sentence to life in prison.

E-mail: and

The Honorable Phil Bredesen (or Mr. Steve Elkins)
Governor’s Office
Tennessee State Capitol
Nashville, TN 37243-0001

3. Call Gov. Bredesen’s office at (615) 741-2001 and tell them you think the governor should commute Gaile’s sentence to life in prison.

4. Write letters to the editors at newspapers in major Tennessee cities.

The Tennessean (Nashville): Submit letters to and include your name, city and ZIP code. Letters should not exceed 200 words.

The City Paper (Nashville): Submit letters to and include your name, city and ZIP code.

The Commercial Appeal (Memphis): Submit letters at

The Knoxville News Sentinel: Submit letters to Letters must not exceed 300 words, and should include your name, address and phone number.

The Chattanooga Times Free Press: Submit letters to Keep letters to 200 words and include your name, address and telephone number.

5. Are you on Facebook? Twitter? Do you blog? Share your thoughts using these social media tools. It’s an easy way to tell Gaile’s story and drive people to action.

— —
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Tennessee Supreme Court has set a Sept. 28 execution date for Gaile Owens, rejecting arguments that her death sentence should be commuted because she was a battered woman.

Owens was convicted in 1986 of hiring someone to kill her husband.

Defense attorneys asked the court to either commute her sentence or issue a recommendation to the governor to do so. They argued her sentence was disproportionate to similar cases and that she tried to plead guilty but wasn’t allowed to.

In its order Monday, the Supreme Court wrote that it cannot consider facts outside the record but noted the governor is not constrained by the same limitations.

A request for clemency has already been sent to Gov. Phil Bredesen.

If Tennessee executes Owens, it will be the first time the state has killed a woman in nearly 200 years.

Defense attorney Kelley Henry had no immediate comment.

Don’t Kill Domestic Abuse Survivor Gaile Owens

From Death Penalty Focus

Gaile Owens, a 54-year-old woman and domestic abuse survivor from Tennessee, is scheduled to be executed on September 28.

Owens is seeking to have her death sentence changed to a sentence of life in prison and only Governor Phil Bredesen has the power to grant the request.

The National Clearinghouse for the Defense of Battered Women (NCDBW) and the Tennessee Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence (TCADSV) have been working together to support Owens. Owens’ supporters say her death sentence should be commuted to life because:

* Owens may be the only prisoner in Tennessee to receive a death sentence after accepting a prosecutor’s offer of a plea agreement for life in prison. In 1985, after years of sexual abuse and severe humiliation by her husband, Owens hired a man to kill him. The prosecutor’s office said Owens could plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence. This offer was made with the approval of her husband’s family. Owens accepted the plea. However, when Owens’ codefendant – the man she hired to kill her husband – refused to take the plea, the prosecutors withdrew the offer.

* Owens’ death sentence is excessive. A recent review of nine cases from Tennessee involving women who have killed or hired someone to kill their partners, shows that six have received probation or early parole and that two received life sentences with eligibility for parole. Only Owens has received death

* Owens was sentenced to death by a jury which never heard critical information about the physical, emotional, and sexual abuse she endured throughout her life, including from her husband. Owens was subjected to physical and sexual violence from a young age. Her husband was but one of the perpetrators of violence against her. When her trial attorneys asked for funds to hire an expert witness with experience in abuse and trauma to evaluate Owens, they were denied.

* The prosecutor withheld exculpatory evidence from the defense. To this date, at least one juror has come forward saying that if she had the information about Owens’ experiences of abuse, she would not have voted in favor of execution. In other words, the proper presentation of this evidence could have resulted in an entirely different verdict and sentence by the jury.