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Channel 4 Nashville quotes PLN managing editor re new DOC work schedule

WSMV Channel 4, Aug. 8, 2014.


Survey shows hundreds of state agency employees feel less safe

Posted: Aug 07, 2014 6:34 PM CDTUpdated: Aug 07, 2014 6:48 PM CDT
Reported by Jeremy Finley - email

A confidential survey of more than 300 employees with the Tennessee Department of Corrections shows 70 percent feel less safer in their jobs than they did four years ago.

The survey, conducted through the Tennessee State Employees Association, was obtained by the Channel 4 I-Team through a former worker.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Correction said the survey doesn't accurately represent their entire workforce.

The TSEA sent out the survey to gauge the feelings about a proposed change in their work shifts and about safety in prisons.

Seventy percent of those who responded said they felt safer in their jobs four years ago.

Eighty-seven percent said that morale is lower than four years ago and 41 percent said they are very likely to seek a new job.

"Based upon that survey, we're going to lose some guards as a result of our practices in the correction department," said John Summers, executive director of TSEA.

When the survey was sent out a few months ago, it included what was called facts and statements about TDOC.

It stated how the agency intends to change the work cycle of prison employees and how wardens were given exclusive authority to classify assaults, something first uncovered by the Channel 4 I-Team.

Our investigation found former wardens claiming that some assault cases on employees and inmates were being deleted and reclassified as inmate/staff provocation in order to make the prisons look safer.

In an earlier statement to the Channel 4 I-Team, commissioner Derrick Schofield wrote that the intention of the reclassification is to provide a more accurate system of tracking assault cases.

While assaults our down, TDOC numbers show the cases of inmate/staff provocation are up. The number show 393 cases of inmate/staff provocation in 2011, 521 in 2012 and 739 in 2013.

"Last year - they (assault cases) didn't go up. but the reason they didn't go up wasn't that the assaults weren't there - it's that we're not calling them assaults," Summer said.

But the biggest concern, according to the survey results, is the proposed change in their work schedules.

The TSEA said that TDOC intends to go from a standard 40-hour work week to a 24-day a month work cycle, including six days on, three days off.

The TSEA survey showed those responding feel there will be less overtime and that people will quit, making the staff thinner.

"Our concern is that levels of violence will increase even further, because you're going to have fewer employees on staff for each shift," said Alex Friedman, a prison watchdog.

"The commissioner has made it clear that safety is his concern, as it is for many of our members. But our members at this time have a different opinion based upon their experience working in the prison now," Summer said.

Neysa Taylor, spokeswoman for TDOC, sent us a statement that reads:

"The Tennessee Department of Correction has thoroughly researched and planned for the implementation of the 28-day cycle. This cycle is employed by other law enforcement agencies across the state including the TBI and the Department of Safety. While we are sensitive to the concerns of the TSEA, we are confident that this new work period will allow our team to more efficiently utilize their resources, promote growth and development through exposure to other fields, and increase the safety and security of our institutions."

Taylor also pointed out that the 324 employees who responded are a small portion of TDOC's nearly 6,800 employees.

Summers said the 324 responders make up about 10 percent of corrections employees who belong to the TSEA, so he feels statistically, it is a good representation of how workers feel.

Taylor said the screening of the assault cases continues, but for accuracy reasons.