32 Tennessee prison officers assaulted over 28 days - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

32 Tennessee prison officers assaulted over 28 days

Posted: Updated:
Police: Six killed in charter bus crash Police: Six killed in charter bus crash

Between Oct. 12 and Nov. 8, there were 32 assaults on correctional officers in Tennessee, according to the Tennessee Department of Correction. None of the officers died, but three of the attacks required hospitalizations.

If there were a similar number of assaults during other months of this calendar year, the state's prison system would be on pace to surpass the number of assaults on correctional officers recorded last year. The news comes amid the ongoing debate over prison safety concerns, and while Gov. Bill Haslam and prison officials continue to say there is no increase in violence in the state's facilities.

"An independent review said the state was running a safe, effective prison system, and according to TDOC data, from July through October (the first four months of this fiscal year), assaults per month are trending lower than the same time period last year and the year before that," said David Smith, a Haslam spokesman, in a statement to The Tennessean.

Neysa Taylor, a TDOC spokeswoman, made the same point, but neither representative could provide specific data to support their statements. After The Tennessean asked Smith for the data Wednesday, he referred comment to the department. Taylor said she wouldn't have the information available until Monday.

"Assault on staff is an offense that will not be tolerated. As always, our Office of Investigation and Compliance investigate the incidents and upon completion of the investigation submit their findings to the local District Attorney for prosecution," Taylor said in a statement.

The review Smith cited, by the American Correctional Association, also said the department should replace its current definition of "assault." The recommendation comes as officers, inmates and their families have told The Tennessean, lawmakers and other media outlets the state is recording violent incidents as "staff/inmate provocations" instead of assaults.

In a statement, Tennessee State Employee Association President Bryan Merritt called on the department to find a way to cut down on assaults while making changes suggested in the ACA review.

"We understand the everyday work environment for correctional officers is hazardous, but 32 assaults on officers within a month's time is unacceptable. We urge the department to act immediately to find and address the issues causing this recent spike in assaults on officers, and to then work diligently to implement the assault definition changes which were recommended by the September ACA audit," Merritt said.

The department recently released data that shows from 2008 to 2015, the number of assaults dropped from 604 to 350. But during that same time period, the number of staff/inmate provocations increased from 390 to 937. Department officials have said they are now properly recording incidents as "staff/inmate provocations," but they agreed to review their definitions for violent incidents in light of the ACA recommendation.

The Tennessean also requested the number of "staff/inmate provocations," a lesser classification not deemed as violent by the state, for the same four-month time period noted by Smith and Taylor. Taylor said she would also provide that information Monday.

The department provided no details as to the extent of the injuries from the assaults. Of the 32 assaults, four received the most severe department classification of "injury," nine were classified as "minor injury" and 19 were classified as "no injury."

In August, when an officer was hospitalized after an assault at Morgan County Correctional  Complex, the department classified his injuries as "non-life threatening." The next day, lawmakers revealed the officer, Sgt. David "Woody" Garrett, had a broken eye socket and nose in addition to other injuries.

Citing safety, scheduling and pay problems, officers have continued to leave their jobs. The department announced last week it would offer a $1,000 retention bonus to 3,300 eligible officers after creating a $600 new-hire bonus in mid-August.

As of Wednesday there were 206 vacant positions at the 10 prisons operated by the state, compared to 302 in early August. At 140 vacancies, West Tennessee State Penitentiary remains atop the list.

Visit the original story at www.wbir.com 

Powered by Frankly