Tennessee Governor and Commissioner Under Fire for Health and Safety Concerns in State Prisons

Governor Bill Haslam and Commissioner Derrick Schofield are under attack from House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Stewart, D-Nashville. The chairman is blaming both Haslam and Schofield for continuing problems plaguing the Tennessee state prison system. He is calling for the governor to exclude Commissioner Schofield from an independent investigation into the issues.

The criticism is coming from all directions, including inmates and corrections officer, citing safety and transparency concerns. Commissioner Schofield is being faulted for an array of concerns ranging from inaccurately reported prison violence to the pay and scheduling of prison employees. There has also been a call by Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Jeff Yarbro, D-Nashville to reinvestigate the mysterious death of inmate Elbert Thornton who was found unresponsive in his cell in September of 2013. Yarbro expressed a lack of confidence in the leadership and direction of the prison system. “The burden is on the governor to explain why he has faith in the commissioner’s ability to turn things around,” he said.

The governor has continually supported Commissioner Schofield, despite claims of incompetence, most recently saying that he believes Schofield is 100% the right person for the position. He has argued that outside factors have had just as much effect as inside factors on the breakdown of the system.

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While there is plenty of blame to go around, Senate Correction Subcommittee members Ed Jackson, R-Jackson and Senator Ken Yager, R-Kingsport both agree that resolving the issues is of utmost importance.

For his part, Schofield has stated that the department is reviewing its definitions on violence with a completion date set for early 2016. It is also shifting towards each prison developing its own system of scheduling.