Tennessee citizens and taxpayers should know how their government leaders are spending their tax dollars. In the case of Department of Corrections Commissioner Derrick Schofield, spending appears to be unchecked. Every year, the legislature asks for budget cuts, yet Commissioner Schofield seems to find new ways to spend extravagantly at the people's expense.
He recently increased salary and benefits at the highest level by nearly triple when he created new positions for associate wardens. Thanks to these new expenditures, all institutions now have at least two associate wardens. The larger facilities will have three associate wardens. These newly hired executives will of course have salary and benefits commiserate with their experience. In addition to increasing the administrative staff at the individual institutions, Commissioner Schofield has also instituted several executive positions in Nashville as well as regional directors, which also come with handsome salary and benefits. These benefits include, but are not limited to, state cars, food and travel reimbursement, and new i-phones.
In his pursuit of "safer and more secure" prisons, Schofield has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars for portable cell phone detectors. Tens of thousands of dollars have been spent on paint alone, as each institution was repainted a uniform gray and white. Each facility now has a "CERT" team, separate from other security staff, who escort the wardens and associate wardens on the compounds and assist with routine cell inspections as well as searches. The CERT members have military-style uniforms, equipment, and training and, it appears they set their own hours and are not subject to the massive mandatory overtime with which other security staff must comply. All of these new expenditures come on top of the aforementioned overtime outlays due to constant staff shortages coupled with a large employee turnover rate. Some corrections officers work double shifts 3 or 4 times per week.
The one thing the Commissioner is NOT overspending on is the food and health budgets. Inmates currently receive no fresh fruit or vegetables (with the exception of lettuce and an occasional banana). All menu items are pre-cooked at the State's Cook Chill plant and transported to the individual facilities. Medical care is woefully lacking. More and more inmates are being forced to purchase needed medical items from the prison commissary whether they can afford to or not. Several of the men's facilities (including West TN) recently staged sit-ins by refusing to leave their cells and refusing to purchase commissary to protest the substandard menu and poor medical care.
The Commissioner has also implemented ineffective changes in housing rules, controlled movement, no-talking zones, and walking in straight lines with hands at the side (even in inclement weather). All of these changes reflect an extreme militaristic approach that is quite counter-productive. Violence has increased by more than 20% during Commissioner Schofield's brief tenure. In an effort to curtail the appearance of increased violence, directives have been given not to write submit disciplines. Staff has been directed to write "other" disciplines. At least three men have been stabbed at West Tennessee in the last few months, and one was stabbed last month at the Turney Center, resulting in a lock-down of a sizeable portion of the population. Commissioner Schofield's approach is not merely ineffective and wasteful; it is dangerous to inmates and guards alike.
Most recently, new stratification process has been planned, which purports to be a viable move to decrease recidivism. However, implementing the program will require mass movement of inmates from prison to prison, creating even more unrest in an already high-stress environment.
Now the Commissioner has begun taking personal property items that have been allowed in the system for decades. As of July 31,2014, inmates will no longer be allowed to keep their personally purchased hotpots. The moc personal property list had allowed this item as recently as December 1, 2013. Rumors are swirling that fans and televisions may be next to go. Many institutions are old with faulty air units, and the fans are necessary in the event the air goes out. While televisions may seem like a luxury, they are the only connection to the outside world for many inmates. If Schofield wants to see violence, unrest, and recidivism skyrocket, he should continue to disallow items that have been allowed without incident for decades, items that were purchased at the expense of the inmate or the inmate family. This places an undue hardship on everyone involved except for Department of Corrections administrators, not to mention violating constitutional due process principles.
As of July 17, 2014, inmates are being forced to sign up for any activities, such as the library, the recreation yard, religious services, etc., one to two days ahead of time and be issued a pass before they will be allowed to exit the housing unit. This unnecessary procedure generates more paper costs as well as payroll expenditures for the staff member who have to prepare all of the passes for no good reason. This is on top of extremely controlled movement already in place.
At least Commissioner Schofield is transparent about his attempts to remake the Tennessee Department of Correction into the state system from whence he came, Georgia. Ironically, Georgia Corrections have discontinued many of the ineffective changes implemented by Schofield while he was there, changes now being replicated in Tennessee. All the while, Schofield's stated goal of "safer and more secure" prisons has yet to be realized, as violence and tensions seem to steadily increase. Finally, since the Select Oversight Committee was dissolved as of July 1, 2011, the Commissioner is no longer being held accountable for the excesses currently taking place with the Corrections budget.
Wake up, Tennessee, to the wretched state of your prison system. Tell others, and do something about it by calling your legislators and informing them that the we should stop blindly throwing tax dollars into the TDOC money pit.