A state audit of the Department of Correction released on Tuesday highlights a number of issues plaguing prisons in Tennessee. The biggest issue is a shortage of correctional officers, which could put inmates and other prison staff at risk.
The CoreCivic-managed Trousdale Turner Correctional Center, northeast of Nashville, and Whiteville Correctional Facility, near Memphis, operated with fewer than approved correctional officers and did not follow staffing guidelines required by the state.
At Trousdale, which is the state’s largest prison, the audit found critical posts were even left unstaffed on multiple occasions.
State policy sets a number of critical posts within prisons that must be staffed “regardless of institutional circumstances” — and that posts left unattended could jeopardize the security or safety of the facility, staff, prisoners, or community. The contract requires any changes to these numbers to be approved by the state.
At a media tour of Trousdale last week, Warden Russell Washburn attributed much of the problem with finding employees to a lack of housing in Hartsville, the town where Trousdale is located. He says potential workers often lose interest in the job when they begin looking for rental properties.
In a statement to WPLN, a company spokesperson said the institution has publicly acknowledged this problem in the past and is “making progress.” That includes increasing starting pay to $16 an hour and offering sign-on and relocation bonuses.
At one point last year, Trousdale was forced to stop accepting new inmates just 4 months after opening. The Associated Press reported that guards were not in control of the housing units, were not counting inmates correctly and were even placing some in solitary confinement for no documented reason.
A spokesperson for CoreCivic said the Department of Correction has conducted a follow-up audit at Trousdale, and though the results have not yet been released, she said they “are encouraged by the initial feedback and look forward to its release.”