- Associated Press - Monday, July 27, 2015

TIPTONVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Two Tennessee prisons are on lockdown because of violence amid a severe shortage of correctional officers.

The Tennessean reports (https://tnne.ws/1LFyEJ7 ) the Tennessee Department of Correction recently switched correctional officers from a traditional 40-hour-work week to a 28-day schedule to save $1.4 million in overtime costs.

As the new schedule has rolled out, officers have quit. Prison security has become so understaffed that correctional officers are working double shifts, and some are traveling across state to temporarily fill vacancies.

Meanwhile, the state agency expanded executive positions at higher salaries at its central office under the leadership of Commissioner Derrick Schofield, who started in 2011.

The new positions include a chief of staff making $125,352 a year and two additional deputy commissioners making $129,900 a year. Those deputy commissioners each earn $26,460 more annually than the salary of the one deputy commissioner on the payroll in 2010.

The agency also has four communications officers now, compared with one in 2010 according to payroll lists from the Tennessee Department of Human Resources. Neysa Taylor, the agency’s communications director, makes $86,400 a year - $17,880 more than her predecessor made in 2010.

Starting wage for correctional officers is $27,070.

Several prison workers have told The Tennessean they are concerned the shortage of correctional officers will make prisons less safe.

On Friday, eight prisoners were injured in stabbings at a Tiptonville’s Northwest Correctional Complex. According to a statement from the Tennessee Department of Correction, an investigation revealed that the stabbings were a result of tensions between rival gang members. No prison staff was injured, but eight prisoners were transported to Baptist Memorial Hospital-Union City and Dyersburg Regional Medical Center.

The statement says, “Our officers acted immediately, with appropriate resources and contained the incident.”

Northeast Correctional Complex in Mountain City is also on lockdown after a July 19 incident that injured an officer.

The department has said the increase in executive positions is necessary.

Spokeswoman Alison Randgaard said the changes reflect best practices in the industry.


Information from: The Tennessean, https://www.tennessean.com

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