Sexual battery in prisons can’t be tolerated.
This unlawful sexual contact includes intentional touching of the victim’s intimate parts or clothing covering the intimate parts and is designated as a class E felony, which is punishable by one to six years in prison, a fine of up to $3,000 and the mandate to register as a sex offender.
That is, unless you’re an inmate incarcerated within the Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC) under Commissioner Derrick Schofield, who is solely responsible to Gov. Bill Haslam.
In that case, the grabbing of a female correctional officer, nurse or other female employee’s crotch, breast or buttocks by a male inmate was reported until last month as "staff/inmate provocation." (The classification was eliminated and replaced with more precise terms after months of complaints from inmates, staff and lawmakers). By classifying it as such, the offense was not subject to outside prosecution, according to TDOC policies, and was the lowest class of disciplinary offense within the TDOC system. If this scenario occurred in any other workplace, the perpetrator could be sentenced to one to six years and a $3,000 fine.
Commissioner Schofield, appointed by Gov. Haslam, has done nothing to stop these incidents of sexual battery or to punish the offenders, as required by Tennessee law. Instead, Commissioner Schofield, with the approval of Gov. Haslam, continues to allow these sexual assaults to occur on female state employees while they are on state property. Sexual battery is a crime of intimidation and control, and no woman should have to experience it within any context — much less work for Tennessee state officials who will turn a blind eye if such an incident occurs.
In fact, not only does TDOC fail to refer these assaults to the local district attorney for prosecution, it frequently is the assaulted female correctional officer, not the inmate, who is moved to a different location within the prison. In one recent example, the female correctional officer actually was moved to the segregation unit where the inmate who assaulted her was temporarily housed. After his time in segregation was over, he was able to move back into his old housing unit and she had to remain in the segregation unit.
The only thing the inmate learned from the experience was that he could sexually batter a female officer or other female employee and face little, if any, consequences within TDOC and absolutely none in a court of law. The Tennessee Department of Correction is not exempt from following Tennessee state law. It is unconscionable that a female correctional officer has to give up her rights as defined by law and be subjected to unprosecuted sexual battery while at work behind prison walls. No woman who is employed by the state of Tennessee should be afraid to come to work because she might be sexually assaulted and moved to a different post or be labeled as a "troublemaker" if she reports the incident.
It is often said that absolute power corrupts absolutely, and this is yet another example of this truism. With the elimination of the Select Oversight Committee on Corrections by the Republican majority in 2011, Commissioner Schofield, as previously stated, is accountable to no one other than Gov. Haslam and only has to justify his policy changes to him.
It is reprehensible that Commissioner Schofield has instituted policies allowing the sexual violation of female state employees to occur while on the job with virtually no recourse. It is absolutely unacceptable that Governor Haslam, who has been made aware of this situation multiple times, chooses to continue to ignore a blatant violation of Tennessee law by one of his appointees and has failed to ensure a safe workplace for state employees. Given that Governor.
Haslam has publicly stated he stands firmly behind Commissioner Schofield and his policies, we can only assume this means he stands behind the commissioner’s decision to ignore these sexual assaults and allow Tennessee law to be broken by TDOC as well as by already-incarcerated inmates — presumably some of whom were imprisoned for the same type of sexual-based offenses. These women are your mothers, sisters, aunts and daughters. This is just the most recent example of how the Department of Correction devalues human life, starting with its employees. If the governor and commissioner cannot stop these sexual assaults and uphold the laws they vowed to enforce, the governor needs to get a new commissioner, or at the very least, outsource the commissioner’s job.
State Representative Sherry Jones, D-Nashville, 59th District