Tennessee correction commissioner says he ‘needs help’ from state after critical audit

Local News

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – “We have a lot of work do,” and “I need help from the legislature,” says the commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Correction.

It comes after the release of a scathing state audit Friday and hours of testimony Monday before a legislative committee.

“We have a lot of work to do–obviously,” said Correction Commissioner Tony Parker after the nearly four hour hearing by a joint government operations sub-committee where lawmakers themselves are trying to get their arms around the highly-critical audit of the state’s prison system.

Commissioner Parker and his staff were often on the hot seat before the lawmakers digesting legislative subcommittee looking at the 200-plus page audit of Tennessee prisons by the state comptroller office.

Proper reporting of inmate deaths, contracts to vendors who did not deliver services promised, and lack of oversight were among the many findings of the audit.

The audit also found woeful under-staffing for those who work in Tennessee prisons.

The commissioner saw it as a key reason for many problems.

“There is not a correction officer that is working in the Tennessee Department of Correction that won’t tell you their job is more difficult because we don’t have full rosters,” added Commissioner Parker after the hearing. “I need the help from legislature. And when you have the vacancies we have, it affects compliance across the board.”

What that help might look like is uncertain right now, but capitol hill Democrats wanted the legislative committee to pursue a further investigation the prison audit findings, instead of formally
extending the department’s existence for another four years in what, by law, is called a “sunset” hearing.

“We need an investigation right now. The committee has the ability to conduct the investigation,” said House Democrat Caucus Chair Mike Stewart. “A four-year extension is essentially a seal of approval for a department that, according to the comptroller, can’t even tell us what is going on with its own operation.”

A spokesperson for Governor Bill Lee said Friday that the governor “absolutely” has full confidence in the correction commissioner, but there needs to be change at Tennessee prisons.

The commissioner says the vendor for a new computer system cannot say yet when it will go online.

In the meantime, the correction department is paying $368,000 monthly to keep an outdated computer system in place.

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