TSEA and the Tennessee Department of Correction Wednesday addressed the Senate State and Local Government Corrections Subcommittee in response to the American Correctional Association’s recent audit of our state prison system.
TSEA began by indicating the association’s overall agreement with the ACA findings. However, TSEA urged the department to partner with the association and engage their employees with a survey about the ACA recommendations. TSEA then suggested the department use the results of that survey to determine what changes should be made to employee schedules.
During an informal meeting Friday between TDOC and TSEA, the department agreed to consider working with TSEA on a survey of officers about schedule options.
In addition to discussing the ACA findings, TSEA re-emphasized our concern for 39.6% state-wide turnover rates, misleading staffing ratios, the practice of closing facilities to solve staffing shortages, non-competitive employee wages, and the legality of contracting with counties to build private prisons, for which TSEA asked legislators to seek an A.G. opinion.
TSEA has previously called for a comprehensive, fully transparent audit of our state prison system, which we believe will uncover other areas in need of attention. We reiterated that message during the presentation.
TDOC indicated during their presentation their intent to review scheduling recommendations.
They said the audit results verified that our prison system is safe, secure, and operationally sound. “That is due to employees that continue to do the work despite any adversities that may be perceived,” Commissioner Schofield said.
The commissioner highlighted the differences between the ACA recommended work period and shift assignment changes. The current scheduling system is 28 days, 8.5/9 hour shifts, on a schedule rotation of 6 days on, 3 off. Under the ACA recommendation, officers would work a 14 day work period, 12 hour shifts, on a schedule rotation of 3 days on, 2 off, 2 on, 3 off, 2 on, 2 off. Both systems provide scheduling equity and the ability to conduct daily shift briefings, but the current plan allows for shorter shifts while the ACA plan allows for fewer work days.
The department said they want to allow facilities to decide which option best fits their workforce. They agree with TSEA that there needs to be a survey, and committed to work with TSEA on how to best survey the staff. But any scheduling changes will not be implemented until early 2016, due to the upcoming holiday season and already-approved leave for employees.
The department also indicated a barrier to communicating with staff is the lack of email addresses for all correctional officers, which they aim to remedy by the end of the month.
The department also plans to conduct a comprehensive review of disciplinary definitions based on the ACA recommendations. These changes will need to undergo a legal review, but according to Commissioner Schofield, some changes could be implemented by early November.
Committee Chairman Ed Jackson, Senator Ken Yager, and Senator Jeff Yarbro all applauded the commissioner for recognizing the need to better communicate with employees, and for working with TSEA.
To watch the full committee hearing, click here.
In the coming days, TSEA expects to begin working with the department on a survey of TDOC employees about the changes to the work schedule. As this process moves forward, we will continue to keep you up to date on any and all developments.