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TDOC Responds to TSEA Concerns

Thursday, August 27, 2015 | 02:07pm

During the hearing before the Corrections Subcommittee of the Senate State and Local Government Committee, TSEA called several of the Department’s practices into question.  While we respect Mr. Stamps and the TSEA, we must continue to set the record straight to prevent any miscommunication about TDOC policies, procedures and statistics. 

The first is the assertion by TSEA that the 28-day schedule has not helped with staffing or overtime issues.  The 28-day schedule has been a positive change for many officers throughout the state.  While we acknowledge that everyone may not like the new schedule, we are confident that it is a step in the right direction and is an asset to our recruitment and retention efforts.  While the implementation of the new schedule was rolled-out over the course of several months, we’ve already seen nearly a 25% reduction in overtime spending.  As stated in the memo provided as Exhibit B, “we will assess the overtime budget and make a determination on how we proceed” before January 2016. 

As for Exhibit C, The TNFORWARD Top to Bottom Review, 17 of the recommendations have been completed.  That includes expanding the scope of the department’s mission to include supervision of all adult felony offenders, establishing a unified prison system, and reviewing processes to ensure the maximum utilization of resources. 

Also in their presentation, TSEA called into question our officer to inmate ratio.  We stand by the information that we shared with the legislature.  As of 7/1/14, we employed 3,446 in the Correctional Officer Series.  We house 15,627 inmates at TDOC staffed prisons.  That ratio is 3,446:15,627.  That is a ratio of 1 officer for every 4.5 inmates. 

The classification and reporting of incidents is another point that TSEA disputed.  To address this we must first provide a bit of background.  In 2012, the Comptroller’s Office released a performance audit of the Tennessee Department of Correction.  One of the concerns listed in the report reads:  “The Department needs to clarify its policy on how it reports incidents occurring in the state’s prison, and should ensure that incident statistics provided to the public and policy makers are sufficiently explained.”  The department immediately addressed this concern by empowering Tony Parker, the Assistant Commissioner of Prisons, to ensure that accurate incident reports were recorded on a daily basis. 

After the 2012 Comptroller’s report, the department added the definition of incidents and a glossary to our Statistical Abstract.  In addition to the Abstract and the Annual Report, we also made policies related to incidents available on our website to aid the public in understanding the complexities of incident reporting. 

Rosters have been repeatedly shared to attempt to show “hidden vacancies.”  The staff rosters provided are not indicative of vacancy numbers.  A staffing roster does not show what units are off line, what programs are going on in the facility, or which positions are not needed that day.  To compare rosters to vacancies is to truly compare apples to oranges.

While we acknowledge vacancies exist, if the 28-day schedule were to blame we would see vacancy trends throughout the system.  We have three facilities that make up 81% of our vacancy numbers.  Those facilities are WTSP, NWCX and BCCX.  Two of those are directly affected by the growth in development in this rural area.  We are competing with private industry for an already shrinking labor pool.  In today’s hearing, Mr. Stamps shared information about a West Tennessee Ice Cream Factory and stated “Correctional Officers today can find better paying, less stressful jobs fairly easily.”  Regarding BCCX, we have exhausted the labor pool in Bledsoe County.  We are meeting these challenges by increasing our recruitment efforts targeting these three facilities and are having success. 

The increase in the staff at Central Office is directly attributed to the addition of Community Supervision to the Department of Correction.  As pointed out by TSEA, the department’s expansion to include the seamless supervision of all adult felony offenders required the addition of support staff to accomplish this mission. 

Regarding the reported remarks attributed to our staff, we encourage any staff member to share concerns with their leadership.  When the 28-day schedule was introduced at each facility, the department provided training, information sessions, a dedicated phone number, FAQs available on the intranet and a dedicated email address.  All of this was aimed at making sure the staff fully understood the new schedule. 

As Commissioner Derrick Schofield stated the Tennessee Department of Correction is fulfilling our mission by operating safe and secure prisons and providing effective community supervision that enhances public safety.  Our team is committed to this mission and to the State of Tennessee and any reports to the contrary are mistaken. We will continue to listen to the concerns of our staff and examine our practices to ensure we operate safe prisons.