Tennessee Prison Officials Say They're Sticking With Controversial Guard Schedules, After All | Nashville Public Radio

Tennessee Prison Officials Say They're Sticking With Controversial Guard Schedules, After All

Jun 10, 2016

State prison officials now say they have no intention of going back on controversial changes to how guards are scheduled and paid.

The decision comes eight months after an independent review recommended abandoning the system, which guards say has shorted them on overtime and contributed to low morale.

The issue is whether prison guards get paid for overtime or have to take time off.

In 2014, the state Department of Correction began scheduling guards on a 28-day cycle. They would get overtime only if they'd worked extra hours by the end of the month. Since then, guards say they've seen their schedules fluctuate — with long weeks followed by short ones — to keep them from getting paid extra.

Randy Stamps, executive director of the Tennessee State Employees Association, says that practice probably saves the state money but it isn't fair.

"You could argue that that's good management. I would argue that's taking advantage of folks that are doing one of the most dangerous jobs in the state."

The system is also unpopular with correctional officers, the TSEA claims. At a hearing Thursday, it presented the results of a survey it took of its members in the Department of Correction.

The TSEA admitted its survey was unscientific, but it said three-quarters of respondents indicated they were dissatisfied with the 28-day schedule.

That's exactly what the American Correctional Association recommended last fall when it went into Tennessee's prisons to figure out why turnover was up among correctional officers and morale was down.

At that time Correction Commissioner Derrick Schofield seemed to say he would go along with the recommendation. He cited a need to re-engineer the department's human resources software as the main barrier to abandoning the 28-day schedule, but he added those changes could be made if employees indicated that's what they wanted.

"We want to do some things that can encourage them — that we're listening, we hear you, and we're going to make the adjustments if necessary," Schofield said then. Now a spokeswoman for the department says it won't, and Schofield refused to explain why Thursday when approached by reporters.

Schofield's last day as commissioner is later this month. But Stamps, with the state employees association, says it's unlikely the next commissioner will change the schedules either.

He says that by the Department of Correction's own estimates last fall, eight months would have been enough time to change the computer software and end the 28-day schedule, if officials in Gov. Bill Haslam's administration had wanted to.