NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A new investigation shows a spike in the number of assaults on guards by inmates in Tennessee's prison system.
The Tennessean reports (http://tnne.ws/1P1TEG8 ) prisoners have assaulted correctional officers with weapons 70 times since Jan. 11. There were an additional 49 assaults during that same period that did not involve a weapon.
The paper found that the 119 assaults against prison staff so far this year put the state Department of Correction on pace to more than double the reported assaults last year.
The increase comes after the state changed the way it defined assaults — a move that came after correctional officers and some state lawmakers accused officials of low-balling the actual number of assaults in the prison system.
There have been complaints for months by officers, inmates and their families about an increase in the level of violence in the prison system. But both Department of Correction Commissioner Derrick Schofield and Gov. Bill Haslam pointed at data showing that assaults had actually decreased since 2012.
The state changed its definition of assaults after a steady stream of complaints and after a recommendation from the American Correctional Association.
State officials said it's not appropriate to compare numbers from two different ways tallying assaults.
"These broader definitions make it impossible to effectively and accurately compare previous disciplinary numbers to where we are today. This year will be spent establishing a new baseline from which future numbers can be compared," TDOC spokeswoman Neysa Taylor said in an emailed statement.
Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, who had been a vocal critic of Schofield and the TDOC's handling of safety issues and guard scheduling and pay, said the new figures validate worries about the 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," Ramsey said in an email. "This new data reveals that the concerns expressed were, in fact, real."