Like its collective waistline come Thursday, so too are Tennessee's prisons primed to burst at the seams.
WPLN's Blake Farmer reports that the prisons administered by the Tennessee Department of Correction will require an additional $100 million for its budget next year as a result of higher-than-anticipated prisoner populations. Fortunately for taxpayers and inmates alike, TDOC head (and Haslam pick) Derrick Schofield is eschewing his responsibility and passing the buck to another bureaucratic entity:
Last year, 2,000 more inmates than the state projected entered the system after being sentenced by local courts. At the same time, the number of prisoners released into the community dropped by more than a thousand.
Correction Commissioner Derrick Schofield lays partial blame on the Parole Board, which comes into play on both ends. It has a tarnished record tracking felons released on parole and overseeing offenders who get probation instead of jail time. Schofield says his goal is to rebuild trust with judges, who have discretion with sentencing.
“It’s not just rebuilding, but establishing a different level of trust, a higher level. When you talk about public safety, there shouldn’t be a question. They should say, ‘we’re going to put this guy on probation, and Correction will do what they say they will do.’”
Schofield says it may also be time to revisit sentencing guidelines, which were last overhauled two decades ago.
In other words, it might be a good idea to stop throwing Tennesseans in jail just because they wanted a joint and forgot to get their brake lights fixed. Or maybe Tennesseans should change its attitudes toward those on parole in the first place and thus create a more accepting society in which they can reintegrate themselves. (Good luck with all of that!)
If you've been keeping score, this is just the latest bad news for the embattled agency, whose Draconian policies and lack of oversight were alleged to have contributed to a rise in prison violence, according to data released by the Human Rights Defense Center.