TDOC commissioner criticized at Senate hearing

TDOC commissioner criticized at Senate hearing


At a Senate hearing Thursday, current and former prison employees blasted the commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Correction.

Commissioner Derrick Schofield said he decided this week to ask the American Correctional Corporation to conduct a review of five of his prison to determine if mistakes have been made.

Schofield said he has heard the criticisms from within his own prisons, but never quite like this.

“Schofield can say whatever he wants to say and lie about whatever he wants,” said Tyler Nelson, a correctional officer.

Nelson and other correctional officers blasted the commissioner in front of a legislative hearing, leaving lawmakers wondering who was telling the truth.

Former and current employees all echoed concerns first exposed in a series of Channel 4 I-Team investigations.

“I’m retired,” said Jerry Lester, a former warden. “They can’t fire me. They can’t put me on third shift. They can’t take away my Social Security.”

The I-Team uncovered that assaults have been reclassified as lesser offenses. A new 28-day schedule has also resulted in resignations, leading to dangerous vacancies in prison staff.

Schofield struck back.

“Some of the statements that were made were opposing to what we say, to what we believe,” the commissioner said. “And some of them I don’t really agree with.”

Schofield said assaults are down in Tennessee prisons. A slide shown at Thursday’s hearing showed that assaults were down from 612 in 2010 to 350 this year. But the lesser charge of inmate-staff provocation was up to 937 this year, compared to 403 in 2010.

“As incidents began to rise, we wardens were directly, repeatedly told to review all assault and violent incidents, and reduce those to a lesser, nonviolent offense,” Lester said.

“It’s institutions, east to west, who are raising serious, high-level concerns and problems,” said Sen. Jeff Yarbro, D-Nashville. “How can they all be unfounded, as you said?”

“Distortion of the facts and not based on facts,” Schofield replied.

Schofield finally told lawmakers the independent evaluation by the outside group will target concerns about vacancies and how incidents are being classified.

“What was it like to the criticism you heard today from your own employees?” Channel 4 chief investigator Jeremy Finley asked.

“Not new,” Schofield replied. “I’ve heard it and responded to it. They got to tell their side of the story to the legislators.”

American Correctional Corporation gives accreditation to prisons, but it is also described as a prison trade organization.

Schofield attended an ACA conference last week. That was when it was suggest that they do an audit.

The audit will cost roughly $5,000.

Copyright 2015 WSMV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

Source: NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) Channel 4
TDOC commissioner criticized at Senate hearing


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