Tennessee: Harmer Blows Whistle on Prison Staff Shortages

LONG-TERM INMATE FEARS OVERWORKED STAFF INCAPABLE OF HANDLING POTENTIAL EMERGENCY

by Sharon Rondeau

(Aug. 12, 2019) — On Friday The Post & Email received a copy of a letter dated August 5, 2019 to Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee from MCCX inmate Grenda Ray Harmer reporting “a severe staff shortage of officers” creating what Harmer sees as a “crises type situation.” [sic]

Harmer, who has been incarcerated by the State of Tennessee for approximately a quarter-century, has been housed at the Turney Center Industrial Complex (TCIX), the Trousdale Turner Correctional Center (TTCC), the South Central Correctional Facility (SCCF), and the current facility in Morgan County, TN.

The second paragraph of his letter begins, “At every facility I’ve been transferred to and kicked out of are experiencing a severe shortage of correctional officers for various reasons. One reason is the long hours they are required to work that is affecting their family lives. Many correctional officers are spending more time at a prison, such as MCCX, then at home and I have been told MCCX officers have a high divorce rate because of it.” [sic]

Hearkening back to the previous Department of Corrections Commissioner, Derrick Schofield, Harmer correctly reflected that Schofield instituted a schedule whereby correction officers worked longer shifts, with overtime pay harder to acquire. “This started the exodus of correctional officers who have seniority and experience, which is now drastically reduced,” Harmer wrote of that time. Further, he claimed that current TDOC Commissioner Tony Parker “is continuing to force correctional officers to work up to 16 hours per day.”

Harmer provided several alleged examples of such prolonged hours.

“The long hours correctional officers are required to work causes them to be drowsy and even fall asleep at work,” his letter continued. “This happened at TCIX, Trousdale, South Central, and here at MCCX. I have seen it. I am concerned is because if a riot or disturbance broke out at, say MCCX, I do not believe the officers could handle the immediate threat because they are so tired from working long hours. One staff told me they go through a draft list of 25 names within two days.” [sic]

Lee, who took office in January of this year, included “criminal justice reform” in his campaign platform.

 

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