Audit finds staffing shortages at TN prisons puts guards, inmates in danger

Audit finds staffing shortages at TN prisons puts guards, inmates in danger

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Tennessee prisons are severely understaffed, putting both inmates and guards in danger, according to a new report.

The Office of the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury released an audit of Tennessee prisons, revealing urgent issues.

The report said investigators surveyed correctional officers at both state-run prisons and prisons run by CoreCivic, a private contractor based in Brentwood. Investigators found one officer at a Tennessee Department of Correction facility said, “If you get assaulted, you’re going to get assaulted until the inmates get tired of beating you.”

On the staffing side, the turnover rate for department officers was at 37% in 2023, which is down compared to last year.

However, investigators said the turnover rate for CoreCivic officers was much higher at 146%.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee was asked about the report Tuesday afternoon. He said he has not read it, but pointed to recent investments.

“We saw an immediate uptick as a result of our increase in pay for correctional officers,” Lee said. “We raised pay for correctional officers by about 30% a year or so ago; it dramatically lowered the turnover rate in state prisons.”

News 2 found the raise was actually higher; in 2021, the State of Tennessee increased pay for state correctional officers by 37%, while CoreCivic also offered bonuses and incentives to help recruit and retain officers. However, there was still turnover.

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The audit also reported a shortage of prisoner services like therapy, substance abuse treatment, education, and re-entry assistance.

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