Nashville, TN – Tennessee State Representatives John Mark Windle (D-Livingston) and Mike Stewart (D-Nashville) say a Corrections Department presentation made last week to lawmakers raises questions about what Correctional Officers say are often crippling consequences of staff shortages.
The presentation showed that assaults are down in prisons across Tennessee, but the officers refute this, saying non-injury officer assaults are actually being re-classified as “staff/inmate provocations” to make the Department’s numbers look better.
The Department presentation was made to the House State Government Committee last Monday, August 10th, 2015. Two days after the presentation, Correctional Officers came to the Capitol and met with Representative John Mark Windle and House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Stewart.
The officers said that numerous claims made by the Department during the House hearing were untrue. Following the meeting, the Representatives today sent a letter to the Department asking officials to clarify and explain several points.
- With Tennessee’s Correctional Officers being among the lowest paid in the nation, did the department the study the potential effects of changing to a new schedule where the employees would have to wait 6 weeks before receiving overtime?
- Numerous staffing schedules provided by Correctional Officers show shift vacancies far higher than the numbers shown by the department to lawmakers. What is causing the discrepancies?
- How is it that incidents in which an officer is struck by an inmate’s urine, spit and, in one case, a rock would not be classified as assaults, but are instead listed under the less serious classification of “staff/inmate provocation”?
- Despite the testimony that the ratio of Correctional Officers is currently five to one, we have received reports that there have been instances of one Officer having to oversee entire cell blocks by himself. Can your office provide documentation to either refute or confirm these reports?
- How is it that an incident report – where an officer was hit in the face by a dinner tray – was initially designated as an assault as requested by the officer, but one minute later was rewritten and designated as “staff/inmate provocation”?
Regarding these discrepancies, Representative Windle said, “Our Correctional Officers are hard-working people with families who are being placed in dangerous situations.” Windle added, “The allegations made by these officers are very disturbing.”
Chairman Stewart said, “These people put their jobs on the line to come down here and tell us what they feel is really going on behind the walls, and we have to investigate and get to the bottom of this.”