Visitation policy difficult for inmate's child

By Thomas Wilson

STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

   As Father's Day approaches, many children find their dad taken away from home -- either due to divorce, military service, or service to the state.
   Sharon Livingston said her son Michael Livingston was serving four years in the Carter County Jail after conviction of felony evading arrest. During that time, she said he has seen his 13-year-old daughter only twice.
   A situation that Livingston said had been very difficult for her granddaughter.
   "I'm not trying to get any special privileges. If they're going to house state prisoners that are doing time, they are going to have to do something," said Livingston. "I just think it's a shame."
   The county jail allows visitation by members of an inmate's immediate family provided the family member is legally an adult, according to Sgt. Wendell Treadway, county jail supervisor under the Carter County Sheriff's Department.
   "For us, it's a safety issue," he said. "The thing is, kids that visit have to be 18 years old."
   Treadway said the jail's policy reflected their concern for safety and potential liability of a minor being inside an adult correctional facility.
   "Our visitation is set up for the immediate family. It's set up each weekend, Friday and Saturday, basically all day," he said. "The only exception is, that on Christmas, inmates can have a visit from everyone."
   Treadway said circumstances had arisen in the past in which the sheriff had permitted visitation by children.
   "If you have someone in the family who has passed away, or someone has come visiting from say, California, or there is a sickness in the family," he said.
   Policies regarding mail and visiting of the Tennessee Corrections Institute -- the independent state body that certifies jails across the state -- reads that a facility's visitation policy should allow children to visit their parents.
   However, the agency does not enforce policies or have regulatory authority over local jails.
   A TCI jail inspector told the STAR that inmate visitation policies were set by the jail's administrative authority, usually the county's sheriff.
   "It's a crime against her," said Sharon Livingston. "I know the (jail's) situation is bad too, but it's not fair and it's just not right to her."
   The policy means the majority of jail inmates face being separated from their minor children.
   "Probably three-fourths of the inmates have children," said Treadway.
   The Tennessee Department of Corrections (TDOC) permit children to visit their parents in state correctional facilities provided they are accompanied by their parent or guardian who is on the inmate's approved visiting list, according to TDOC policy.
   Serving time as a state inmate, Livingston was convicted of the felony charge in July 2000.
   He has several past convictions ranging from misdemeanor traffic violations to the felonies, including the sale of Schedule VI and Schedule IV drugs, according to Carter County criminal court documents.
   Sharon Livingston acknowledges her son's brushes with the law have certainly played a role in his separation from his daughter.
   "He hasn't done right by her and he'll be the first to admit that," she said, "but he's still a human being and he still loves his daughter."