House sub kills bill to change prison work schedules

Despite calls from correctional officers to abandon a controversial 28-day work schedule, a House subcommittee has killed a proposal to change the Department of Correction, reports The Tennessean.

A bill (HB1957), sponsored by Rep. John Mark Windle, D-Livingston, seeks to implement an idea that was included in a review of the state’s prison system that the American Correctional Association performed last year. The review came after The Tennessean and other media published reports of safety and staffing issues in Tennessee prisons.

The ACA review included a recommendation that the state Department of Correction replace the currently used 28-day schedule with a traditional 40-hour workweek, suggesting officers work six days and then take three days off.

Opponents, which include the Tennessee State Employees Association, say the 28-day schedule unfairly delays overtime payments, which ends up decreasing the amount of money an officer takes home. They also argue the current system is leading to more vacancies, which is forcing the remaining officers to work more and creating unduly unsafe environments.

…Rep. Bud Hulsey, R-Kingsport, took issue with the bill, saying that the department came up with the current schedule after a two-year review.

“I have a real problem sometimes with my role as a legislator on how far do I stick my nose into (the) state’s business,” he said.

Retention has become such an issue that every prison in the state has had to keep a retention officer on staff, Windle explained. “We’ve never had to do that before,” he said.

But House state government subcommittee chairman Bill Sanderson, R-Kenton, said Windle’s legislation circumvents the department’s ability to make its own rules.

“I feel like as Representative Hulsey mentioned that it may be a little premature for us to move forward on something like this,” he said.