Staff shortages endanger prisoners, Harmer says

WARTBURG, Tenn. — I want you to be aware that the Tennessee department of correction is experiencing a severe staff shortage of officers. And Morgan County Correctional Complex is, I believe, close to a crises type situation.

Grenda Harmer

At every facility I’ve been transferred to and kicked out of are experiencing a severe shortage of correctional officers for various reasons. One reason is the long hours they are required to work that is affecting their family lives. Many correctional officers are spending more time at a prison, such as MCCX, then at home and I have been told MCCX officers have a high divorce rate because of it. When Derrick Schofield was appointed Commissioner he required officers to work 12-hour shifts to allegedly save money, which is a lie. 

[This letter dated Aug. 5 is directed to Gov. Bill Lee by inmate Grenda Harmer, No. 88710, a correspondent who is imprisoned at Morgan County correctional complex in Wartburg, Tenn. — DJT]

This started the exodus of correctional officers who have seniority and experience, which is now drastically reduced. Officers are forced to work up to 16 hours a day.

I reported to Gov. Haslam that one officer at Trousdale was forced to work 20 straight hours. Commissioner Tony Parker is continuing to force correctional officers to work up to 16 hours per day. Here are some examples I recently monitored:

➤ Example No. 1: July 22, 2019, 30 officers from 2nd shift had to work 3rd shift.

➤ Example No. 2: July 23, 2019, 20 officers (17 correctional officers and three corporals) from 2nd shift had to work 3rd shift.

➤ Example No. 3: July 27, 2019, 16 first shift officers had to work 2nd shift and 17 2nd shift officers had to work 3rd shift.

This is an ongoing problem that can be verified by obtaining the shift rosters from the shift captain. Officers are complaining that they are working too much overtime, they are always tired, and it is interfering with their ability to see their spouses and children. 

Staff at MCCX have other valid reasons for the high turnover rate. For example, there are higher ups that talk to them in a disrespectful manner. They say the warden, Mike Parris, does not take the time to talk with them

about their concerns. They complain they are mistreated by their superiors in how they conduct their shifts. I won’t get into specifics because I don’t want anyone pinpointed. I know these things are true because have personally heard brass talk funky to correctional officers.

The long hours correctional officers are required to work causes them to be drowsy and even fall asleep at work. This happened at TCIX, Trousdale, South Central and here at MCCX. I have seen it. I am concerned is because if a riot or disturbance broke out at, say MCCX, I do not believe the officers could handle the immediate threat because they are so tired from working long hours. One staff told me they go through a draft list of 25 names within two days.

Another complaint they have is when the state gives them a 5 percent pay raise the state then raises their insurance premiums by 4 percent. What is wrong with that picture? The raise is a sham. That is what is wrong with that picture. MCCX is, the last time I asked, 126 officers short and 40 are just on 1st shift alone.

Are you aware that at TTCC it is reported that even one of the assistant wardens are even working the units? I can’t verify it but I do know they also have a severe correctional officer shortage because I was kicked out of TTCC for exposing Commissioner Parker and CEO Damon Hiniger engaging in fraud. It was a March 31, 2017, letter to state Rep. Barbara Cooper of which I sent Gov. Haslam a copy.

Gov. Lee, this correctional officer shortage is a threat to the safety and security of the institution, and the staff that work there, and the inmates and prisoners who are incarcerated. Please look into this issue and find solutions to the problem before it gets any worse.

More from prisoner Grenda Harmer

The David Tulis show is 1 p.m. weekdays, live and lococentric.

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