TSEA: ACA audit encouraging, yet deficient
NASHVILLE –The Tennessee State Employees Association considers the findings of the American Correctional Association’s audit of the Tennessee state prison system encouraging, yet deficient.
The ACA audit recommends changing the 28-day FLSA exempt class work period from 28-days to 14-days, changing the 8-hour shift assignment to a 12-hour shift assignment, and redefining disciplinary offenses. These changes, according to the report summary, are anticipated to positively affect facility stability and safety, address staffing concerns relative to pay, overtime and scheduling issues, and clarify the department’s assault policies.
TSEA, in a July 30 meeting with TDOC, first asked the department to consider other work cycle options, including a move to a 14-day plan. On August 19, TSEA publically called for TDOC to repeal the 28-day cycle and either return to a 40-hour work week, or find some other equitable system to address issues with overtime pay and turnover. To date, the department has not indicated a plan to adopt this change. We are encouraged to see this recommendation in the audit.
TSEA is also pleased to see the recommendation to redefine the department’s assault policies. Employees are concerned about their safety. Frequently classifying bad inmate behavior as provocation lowers morale and jeopardizes the safety of employees, which increases turnover. We hope the department also considers this recommendation.
“TSEA was never confident that the ACA could conduct a fully transparent audit of TDOC,” TSEA President Bryan Merritt said. “We generally agree with the two recommendations contained in today’s ACA report; however, in light of the volume of well-documented issues facing TDOC, we are disappointed about the considerably low number of recommendations contained in the report.”
TSEA’s first priority is and always has been the safety of Tennessee’s state employees. TSEA is concerned that staffing issues, particularly the department’s overall 39% turnover rate, are not mentioned in the ACA audit. We are concerned that the audit team didn’t review any staffing rosters from the days and weeks prior to their arrival.
In addition, we continue to be concerned about low officer pay and troubling staff to inmate ratios. We think all of these issues should have appeared in the audit.
“This audit is a start. But, if we really want to get to the bottom of TDOC’s problems, we need a comprehensive, truly independent, fully transparent audit of our state prison system,” Merritt said. “Regardless, it is time for the song and dance to end. With each passing day that we do not act to correct the issues in TDOC, we get closer to tragedy. We urge the department to seriously consider ACA’s recommendations.”
Founded in 1974, TSEA represents the rights and interests of all state employees in Tennessee and has a rich history of improving the lives of its state employee members. For more information, visit TSEA’s website at www.tseaonline.org.