TN prisons — public and private — running short on staff

There are more than 800 staff vacancies at Tennessee’s public and private prisons, reports The Tennessean. Officials say the state’s strong economy has increased competition for staff, though the newspaper notes there have been many months of complaints about pay, benefits, hours and safety from correctional officers, inmates and their families.

Right now, there are 519 vacancies at the state’s 10 public prisons, representing roughly 11 percent of the workforce, according to data provided by Tennessee Department of Correction spokeswoman Neysa Taylor. Those prisons are supposed to have 4,576 employees, according to the information she provided.

…There are 306 vacancies at the state’s four private prisons, operated by CoreCivic, the company previously known as Corrections Corporation of America. That represents a vacancy ratio of 18.6 percent, company spokesman Jonathan Burns said.

“It’s important to note that vacancies reflect the total possible number of positions at each facility and are not reflective of the number of positions necessary for the safe and secure operation of our facilities,” Burns said.

Additionally, CoreCivic uses a private third-party contractor at times to hire for temporary workers to fill some of those vacancies. An online listing for a company called G4S shows a security officer opening in Hartsville, Tenn. — home of the Turner Trousdale Correctional Center, the largest prison in the state. The site says the salary is in the range of $20 to $25 an hour. The average starting salary for a CoreCivic officer is closer to $13 an hour, Burns confirmed.

…Part of the problem at public prisons is staff pay and an inability to keep staff for very long, according to the department’s latest statistical abstract. Systemwide for the current budget year, the turnover rate was more than 36 percent. At the Tennessee Prison for Women, recently plagued by myriad issues that led to leadership changes, the turnover rate was higher than 60 percent.

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Former Knoxville News Sentinel capitol bureau chief Tom Humphrey writes about Tennessee politics, government, and legislative news.
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