Tennessee's Chaotic Prisons

Felons on a fence, and a jail term for the state's top jailer

"There are three things you need to run a prison," said W.S. Neil, onetime warden of the Tennessee State Penitentiary in Nashville, "a checkbook, a shotgun and the strap." Until the legislature outlawed corporal punishment, Neil routinely ordered the flogging of inmates with a leather strap. Now, as in those days of a generation ago, Tennessee has serious problems with its underfinanced and overcrowded penal system. In July there were riots at three prisons. In October a U.S. judge barred wardens from accepting any more inmates until the prison population was drastically cut. Last month a Memphis sheriff, with no room...

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