Inmates are entering Tennessee prisons faster than they’re being released, and the Correction Department says the unforeseen trend is busting the agency’s budget. The state prison system has asked for an extra $50 million to make it through this year.
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.
But the department doesn’t expect the prison population to subside anytime soon. On top of the $50 million to get through this year, the agency is asking for a budget increase of $100 million next year.