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State Lawmaker Calls For More Oversight Of State Prison System

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Posted at 5:56 PM, Aug 31, 2015
and last updated 2015-09-08 04:30:22-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – A state lawmaker is calling for more oversight of the state’s prison system. The request was made after the Tennessee Department of Correction was accused of downplaying attacks on prison guards and struggling to keep employees.

Nashville Democratic Representative Mike Stewart called a news conference Monday. Rep. Stewart is not only asking for more oversight, he was also critical of the department's choice to conduct an independent audit.

Stewart said Tennessee Department of Correction Commissioner Derrick Schofield's plan for an independent review of the prison system isn't enough.

"The people of Tennessee, when they look at the details, have every reason to suspect that this is not really intended to be an independent audit, but is really intended to be business as usual with a different name," said Stewart.

Last Thursday at Legislative Plaza, Schofield told a Senate subcommittee the American Correctional Association, or the ACA for short, will do an independent review of staffing, vacancies and incident reporting at five prisons in Tennessee in September. The ACA already accredits Tennessee prisons.

During Thursday's hearing Nashville Democratic Senator Thelma Harper sought reassurances from Schofield that improvements would be made.

"So, then what?" asked Harper.

Schofield answered, "And we will make the corrections based on that report."

Senator Harper repeated, "So, you will make those corrections?"

Schofield answered, "Yes, based on the recommendations from ACA who continues to be our accrediting body."

Commissioner Schofield said the ACA review will be in addition to what is normally conducted to maintain accreditation.

Representative Stewart said it's not a good choice, because prison officials know what's coming in an ACA inspection, so it won't address his concerns.

He produced internal memos from the warden at the West Tennessee State Penitentiary.

Rep. Stewart quoted from one and said, "Warden Holloway notes, it's come to my attention that the rock men are not being let out to clean the showers on the weekend, since they won't be inspected."

Rep. Stewart added, "This is just one example, it's one document that shows they know what's going to be inspected. If it's not going to be inspected then they're not taking steps to fix it or respond to it."

Rep. Stewart recommends an arm of the Justice Department called the National Institute of Corrections or NIC. do the investigation.

A spokeswoman with the Department of Correction said they have relationships with both the ACA. and the NIC., but they've chosen the ACA.

When it comes to reinstating the Legislative Corrections Oversight Committee Stewart may get his wish.

Republican House Majority leader Gerald McCormick has said he thinks several oversight committees should be reinstated.