Prison assaults rise with new definitions

Since Jan. 11, there have been 70 assaults with a weapon against Tennessee correctional officers and 49 assaults that didn’t involve a weapon, reports The Tennessean.

Those 119 assaults put the Tennessee Department of Correction on pace to more than double the number of assaults on staff recorded in 2015, according to figures obtained from the department through a request by The Tennessean.

The seemingly drastic increase comes after Tennessee prison officials changed the definitions of assault on officers and inmates amid continued scrutiny from officers, inmates and the organization the department relies on to inspect its facilities and policies.

…Haslam spokeswoman Jennifer Donnals didn’t comment on whether the new data accurately reflect the level of violence in Tennessee prisons.

“The (ACA) report also made a recommendation, and the department reviewed it, implementing a new policy. It’s not appropriate to compare numbers from two different policies,” Donnals said in an emailed statement Wednesday.

…Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, has been critical of Schofield and the way the department has handled issues pertaining to safety, scheduling and pay. In a statement Wednesday, he says the new data validate the concerns about violence in the prison system.

“When issues at the Department of Correction first arose last year, our Senate State and Local Corrections Subcommittee conducted exhaustive hearings resulting in important changes like these definition adjustments. This new data reveals that the concerns expressed were, in fact, real,” Ramsey said in an emailed statement.

…Sen. Jeff Yarbro, D-Nashville, also has criticized the department’s previous approach to how it tracks violence and assaults in state prisons. He echoed Ramsey’s statement Wednesday, saying the “spike” in assaults reflected in the new data shows assaults in the past have been “misclassified and underreported.”