(The Center Square) – Tennessee’s Department of Corrections has had to rely on overtime and what some officers described as a “hostile environment” due to understaffing and other issues at its facilities, according to an audit from the Tennessee Comptrollers’ Office.
The report said the department spent $51.4 million on correctional officer overtime in fiscal years 2022 and 2023.
The correctional department’s Northwest facility was more than 60% understaffed when the auditors observed the facility and found that one officer who worked an eight-hour shift returned six hours later to work a 17-hour shift, thus working 25 hours in a 36-hour period.
The audit noted “the correctional officers seemed exhausted and overworked, and one officer noted in a logbook, ‘we are mentally exhausted from long hours worked.’”
The audit also looked at CoreCivic operators facilities and found that potential aggressors were housed in the same cells as potential victims of sexual abuse, in violation of Federal Prison Rape Elimination Act standard.
The department also didn’t not conduct investigations to see that CoreCivic properly handled sexual abuse and sexual harassment.
The department has an Augmentee Program to assist in understaffing issues but spent $10.8 million in augmentee overtime that created an “unfair pay disparity between correctional officers and augmentee employees who worked the overtime.”
“If the Augmentee Program continues, the commissioner should reevaluate its intent to provide relief to correctional officers, address pay disparity between augmentee participants and correctional officers, improve the training requirements for participants, and establish reasonable workload limits with clear guidelines that identify maximum allowable Augmentee Program work hours,” the audit recommended.
The department concurred, saying the program was necessary but said it would evaluate overtime and participation limits, especially for management and supervisory staff.
As of June 30, 2022, the department employed 2,410 correctional officers and had 894 vacant positions. A year later, there were 2,601 correctional officers employed and 749 vacancies.
Many of the CoreCivic facilities saw triple-digit turnover for fiscal year 2023, except for Whiteville, which saw a 61% decrease from the year before.
Trousdale’s had a 188% turnover rate for fiscal year 2023.