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by Sharon Rondeau

Does the TDOC bear responsibility for Paige Jones’s death following a triple shift?

(Oct. 19, 2015) — In a letter dated 15 October 2015 from Tennessee state inmate Walter Francis Fitzpatrick, III, The Post & Email has learned of the tragic passing of a 20-year-old corrections officer employed by the Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC), which has been under scrutiny by state lawmakers and the media as a result of reports of a shortage of officers and overwork and fatigue for those still employed.

In August of last year, TDOC Commissioner Derrick Schofield changed the way in which correction officers were reimbursed for overtime, rendering it more difficult for overtime to be accrued by increasing the threshold for overtime pay to 171 hours in a month.

After state lawmakers began to hold hearings two months ago, Schofield relented and said that after working 160 hours, correction officers would receive overtime, paid at the regular rate until the 171-hour mark is reached.

The change was made to save $1.4 million annually in the state’s budget.

Although conceding that 322 correction officers resigned since the inception of the new policy, Schofield denies that prisons are understaffed or that correction officers are underpaid.  Schofield claims that state prisons are adequately staffed, but the TDOC advertises “Immediate Job Openings!” on its website with a phone number to call.

Correction officers receive a starting salary of $27,000 annually.

Fitzpatrick and other inmates have reported very dangerous working conditions for prison guards at the Northwest Correctional Complex (NWCX), where a July 24 gang uprising resulted in at least eight hospitalizations from stab wounds.  Documentation sent by an inmate who has been incarcerated for 24 years demonstrates that the inmates’ hospitalizations were initially classified as “illness.”

An audit to which Schofield agreed carried out last month reportedly found that Tennessee state prisons are “smoothly operating.”

Tennessee was rated third in public corruption by a joint University of Hong Kong/Indiana University published last year.  It is known for its “prisoners-for-profit” operations both inside and outside of prisons; its judicially-selected grand jury foremen who wield undue influence over what is expected to be an unbiased panel of citizens chosen at random to evaluate evidence of crimes against their fellow citizens; and poor jail and prison conditions for both inmates and employees.

Judges, court clerks, legislators, sheriffs, jailers, jurors and bailiffs all participate in the racketeering operation which incarcerates as many citizens as possible without due process, given the illegally-operating grand juries.

The appellate courts and Tennessee Supreme Court protect the lower courts so as to maintain the continued operation of the syndicate, including stating that grand jurors do not have to be unbiased in considering evidence against an accused.

In his letter, Fitzpatrick wrote that 20-year-old Paige Jones “was buried on 23 Sept. 2015” after working “two double shifts with only one shift break in between.”

Fitzpatrick provided a diagram of what he believes Jones’s work schedule to have been before she left the West Tennessee State Penitentiary (WTSP) for home.

On July 30, CorrectionsOne reported that WTSP was one of the prisons particularly affected by a shortage of guards and that “WSMV-TV reported Tuesday that one exhausted correctional officer at Bledsoe crashed his vehicle when he fell asleep following a 16-hour shift.”

While Fitzpatrick included a copy of a newspaper clipping from The Covington Leader containing Jones’s obituary dated September 24, 2015, The Post & Email was unable to locate it online.  However, we were able to find her obituary at The Commercial Appeal and Covington Funeral Home, where her wake and funeral were held.

The obituaries do not say how she died.

On Monday, The Post & Email contacted TDOC Communications Director Neysa Taylor for comment on Jones’s passing but received no response.

There appear to be no news articles about Ms. Jones’s death.

The Post & Email extends its deepest condolences to Ms. Jones’s family, fiancé, and friends.