Tennessee Prison System Faces Staffing Shortage

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee’s prison system is currently in disarray, as correctional offic-ers continue to quit over reduced pay, fighting between rival gangs of inmates and one inmate escape.

About 322 Tennessee correctional officers have quit since August 2014 when the Tennessee De-partment of Corrections (TDOC) started phasing in a new overtime policy. Correctional officers that once received overtime after working a 40-hour-per-week schedule now only get overtime after working a 28-day or 160-hour work schedule. The change is intended to save the state $1.4 million, reported Chattanooga Times Free Press.

As a result of the staff shortage, correctional officers have been taking double shifts. The Tennessean reported that several prison workers are concerned that the shortage of correctional of-ficers will make prisons less safe.

Three state prisons were put on lockdown last month, reported The Tennessean. Multiple stab-bings occurred at West State Penitentiary in Henning. At the Northwest Correctional Complex in Tiptonville, eight felons were sent to the hospital with knife wounds after a gang-related inci-dent. Minimum-custody inmate Richard Roberts was also captured in late July after escaping from his mowing detail outside the same complex. Northeast Correctional Complex in Mountain City was also placed on lockdown after an incident on July 19 that injured a correctional officer.

A press statement about the Northwest Correctional Complex stabbings from the Tennessee De-partment of Corrections (TDOC) stated, “The investigation into the incident has revealed the in-cident resulted from a conflict between two rival gangs in a local community spilling over into the prisons. Inmates with alliances to illegal gangs make up nearly one third of our inmate popu-lation.”

Despite the staffing shortage, TDOC reports that incidents have decreased by 23 percent, and staff assaults have decreased by 29 percent. The Tennessean reported that officers said similar staffing shortage problems were occurring at Riverbend Maximum Security Institution in Nash-ville, West Tennessee State Penitentiary in Henning and Morgan County Correctional Complex in Wartburg.

In hopes that the staffing shortage will be short-lived, Doug Cook, the warden at the Bledsoe County Correctional Complex in Pikeville, Tenn., said that 23 new people have completed a cor-rectional training class and a new class of 28 will begin training soon, reported Chattanooga Times Free Press.