Acute Staff Shortage Threatens the Correctional System of Tennessee

It is now clear that the correctional staff shortage which was thought to be a problem restricted to Nashville is in fact a state wide issue faced by prisons all over. So far, authorities from the State Penitentiary at Henning, the Correctional Complex for Morgan County and the Riverbend Maximum Security Complex at Nashville have all confirmed that they are indeed facing a staffing crisis.

The trouble began when the Department of Corrections of TN changed the work schedule for the correctional staff from the traditional 40 hours per week to a cycle of 28 days in a bid to save $1.4 million on correctional spending. The change means that even with overtime, officers now have to wait for 28 days or even longer to get their paychecks.

This hinders their ability to seek part time employment elsewhere; not to mention that it has also severely impacted the amount of time they can now spend with their families. Together, these factors have led to a tremendous increase in the attrition rate. In turn, this has increased the work burden on officers who often end up working multiple double shifts.

Unfortunately, given the changes, the additional efforts they put in don’t always qualify for extra pay because it may not be regarded as overtime. It comes as no surprise then that even the Morgan County Correctional Center which has a low turnover rate saw a decline of almost 20% in the number of officers who reported to duty within 3 months of the new schedule being implemented.

Although the number of correctional staff vacancies has increased by 4 times, there simply aren’t any takers for these jobs, which has simply worsened an already critical situation. Existing staff is bearing the brunt of the shortage as work stress has increased by several manifolds.

The 10 incidents that were reported in the Morgan County Facility in June, which included 2 assaults on prison staff, are just the beginning of how bad things will be if the DOC does not roll back the changes.