Tennessee lawmakers are complaining that their prison guards are helping to drugs and other contraband into the state's prisons. They specifically are bemoaning that those guards are being allowed to quit or resign without facing criminal prosecution when caught.
Tennessee employs more than 2,400 employees in its 15 prisons. Salaries begin at just over $21,000 a year.
Lawmakers' position that guards caught smuggling without facing prosecution are misfounded. Of 17 guards that were terminated or resigned for drug violations since the beginning of 2004, more than two thirds were prosecuted criminally. Eight of those were accused of smuggling drugs into prisons. One guard smuggled 2 pounds of marijuana to prisoners.
Tennessee Department of Corrections (TDOC) officials say the failure to prosecute all guards terminated for drug violations is due to lack of evidence or the local prosecutor not pursuing charges. One lack of evidence case involved a guard who had marijuana seeds found in his vehicle, which was insufficient for a possession conviction.
An example of a guard smuggling to supplement his income involved Jamie Bizzle, 27. Drugs and other contraband were mailed from a prisoner's home to Bizzle's home in Newbern. One shipment contained a $100 money order and a $20 bill.
The discovery of these actions cost Bizzle his job and disqualified him from working for the state in the future. That was fair," said Bizzle. I regret that and it wasn't right what I had done. At the time, I was living off $750 a month, basically. That's not much when you're trying to raise four kids and (have) a wife. It ain't too easy. (I was) thinking about giving money to pay bills.
To keep drugs from entering prisons, Tennessee legislators appropriated $480,000 for six drug-sniffing dogs. The legislator, however, said it did not have $19 million to bring Tennessee guards' pay up to that or their counterparts in the Southeast.
The TDOC seemed to have no regard for the pay of its employees. Some employees are going to make the wrong choices regardless of pay, training, or the law," said TDOC spokesman Amanda Sluss.
Source: The Tennessean
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