State rep calls for prison oversight committee after guards assaulted

(WKRN)

HICKMAN COUNTY, Tenn. (WKRN) – Three prison guards were assaulted by at least 16 inmates Sunday afternoon, and two of them are still in the hospital.

It happened at the Turney Center Industrial Complex in Hickman County when all three officers were stabbed multiple times. One was held hostage for hours before he was eventually released without the use of force.

Now, some state lawmakers are calling for the reinstatement of a prison oversight committee. They said if it was in place, what happened at the Turney Center could have been prevented.

“This is not something where our prison officials had this under control, where nobody knew this was going to be a problem. To the contrary. There’s a long history of violence in this facility, we have been trying to exercise oversight,” said Rep. Mike Stewart.

Stewart said he has personally received complaints about 11 officer assaults inside the Turney Center within just the past eight months.

(Photo: WKRN)

He says if there was an oversight committee, complaints would be sent to them so they could keep records of the assaults and come up with a plan to keep things from escalating.

“The legislature could’ve stepped in, toured the facility, could’ve made demands on state officials and could’ve exercised its supervisory role,” said Rep. Stewart.

Representatives have been pushing for an oversight committee for years and can’t understand why there’s opposition.

“There is no excuse for continuing to create an environment of real harm for the brave men and women serving our state, as well as the inmates who are in these facilities,” Rep. John Ray Clemmon told News 2.

Correction Commissioner Tony Parker says he thinks the riot at the state prison was handled properly.

“Our prisons are safe. The problem is it’s just like with law enforcement, we deal with many times, situations where you cannot see the future,” he said.

He told News 2 the officer-prisoner ratio at the Turney Center Industrial Complex is 1 to 128. Some lawmakers say that’s not nearly enough officers.

“The bottom line is the name of the game in the corrections business, and that’s to make a dollar. And putting officers in the line of duty in jeopardy by not having sufficient training or sufficient manpower on the job is unacceptable,” said Senator Jeff Yarbro.

But Commissioner Parker said he doesn’t feel like the situation would’ve been handled any differently if more officers were there.

He said, “I don’t know that more staff would’ve helped in this situation. This attack was really driven by, I think it started as a verbal confrontation between an officer and an inmate, and it escalated from there.”

“It is unacceptable for a correction officer to be held hostage in a Tennessee prison. It’s unacceptable for three state employees to be airlifted from one of our prisons. We have an obligation to ensure that our prisons are safe for inmates, corrections officers and to the public at large,” said Senator Yarbro.

Commissioner Parker said officers inside the correctional facility were not armed, which is standard.

Legislation for a prison oversight committee is pending this year.

The inmates involved were moved to Morgan County Correctional Complex, which is a maximum security facility, before four were later moved to Riverbend Maximum Security Institution.

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