Scathing state audit questions safety, security of Tennessee prisons

Tennessee News

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – A scathing state audit questions if the Tennessee Department of Corrections can “operate safe and secure prisons.”

The document, over 200-pages long and an inch thick, is full of criticism after criticism about the way the state runs its prisons.

The first key conclusion of the state comptrollers audit lays out the scope of what was found wrong at Tennessee prisons between late 2017 and mid-2019.

“The Department of Correction’s leadership failed to provide adequate oversight activities of the department and correctional facilities management in several areas relating to inmates, staff and the community,” said the audit in its key conclusions.

The audit said those findings affected the department’s “…mission to operate safe and secure prisons…”

Specifically, the audit questions reporting of inmate deaths in the correction department’s official system of a record called TOMIS ( Tennessee Offender Management Information System).

The audit says “for eight inmate deaths that were classified as natural deaths in TOMIS, we found that five inmates actually died due to drug overdoses, two to homicides and one to suicide.”

The Department of Correction responded that “it is true that some associated documents for a few of the deaths were received at a later time and had not yet been entered into TOMIS when the audit was performed.” but added it “stands by the process of properly reporting and documenting the deaths in custody…”

  • Among the many other areas of the audit that were critical of the correction department were:
  • questions that correction staff “followed policies and procedures for investigating sexual abuse and harassment allegations.
  • questions about inmates receiving proper health care.
  • and “significant difficulties in “hiring and retaining a sufficient number of correctional officers.”

A hearing on this scathing prison audit is scheduled before Tennessee lawmakers 9-AM Monday.  

Moments after the audit was released, Tennessee Department of Correction Commissioner Tony Parker released the following statement:

    “The Department of Correction appreciates the work of the Comptroller’s Office audit staff and the thoroughness of the report.  We have already addressed, or are in the process of addressing the issues raised in the report which includes, but is not limited to,       enhanced staff training and revision of department policy and procedures.

    Although the Department concurs, or concurs in part, with all of the findings referenced in the Comptroller’s report, we maintain that the TDOC operates safe and secure prisons and provides effective community supervision. The majority of the findings can be attributed to technology challenges, delayed reporting, and the staff shortages that our state, like many others, currently experience.  

    It is important to note that the department is certified by the Department of Justice for PREA compliance, fully accredited by the American Correctional Association, and many of our processes and protocols exceed national standards. Nevertheless, the department recognizes and is committed to improving our processes and procedures as well as enhancing our own internal auditing processes as recommended by the Comptroller that will help the TDOC be a better and more efficient department.

    We recognize and appreciate that the State’s external auditing function brings valuable, third-party insight.  Like other law enforcement agencies, our employees work extremely hard, day in and day out, to protect the public while facing increasingly difficult challenges. We will address the specific findings during Monday’s hearing.

    The citizens of Tennessee can rest assured that the Tennessee Department of Correction will not compromise public safety and will do everything within our power to ensure that the public, our employees, and the offenders under our supervision are protected.”

Commissioner Parker, who has served in the position since 2016, was reappointed in 2019 by Governor Bill Lee.

A spokesperson for Lee says the governor “absolutely” has confidence in Commissioner Parker, but “things need to be looked at and corrected.”   

Here’s a look at the full audit report.

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