Front entrance to the Northeast Correctional Complex (NECX) at 5249 Highway 67 West in Mountain City. The facility is in some turmoil due to a reported staffing shortage. File photo.
By Tamas Mondovics
Concern over staffing issues that have allegedly led to violent incidents at the Northeast Correctional Complex (NECX) at 5249 Highway 67 West in Mountain City are not new. But recent reports indicate things are not and will not get better unless the facility can recruit a sizable number of correctional officers as soon as possible.
“NECX is in crisis due to staff shortage,” said one relative of an inmate currently housed at the facility, who wanted to remain anonymous.
According to her knowledge over a recent weekend shift, she added that eight critical positions were empty, and long-term staff are leaving in droves.
“The current warden refuses to lock the prisoners down even though staff coverage cannot handle them,” she said. “Lots of violence lately, staff assaults. Staff is in danger.”
Some have suggested that the National Guard should have been called in months ago.
“It is getting bad,” said one source who did not want to be named, adding, “At last count, the facility is reportedly 125 officers short.”
Addressing the staff issues at the facility, Robert Reburn I, East Tennessee Region Public Information Officer, assured The Tomahawk that NECX is working on filling the vacant positions, but it has not been easy.
“Like many correctional and law enforcement agencies across the state and country, shoring up our workforce has been difficult given the currently robust economic climate,” Reburn said. “While the current vacancy levels at NECX are at an unprecedented level, we want to assure the citizens of Mountain City and Johnson County that the facility continues to operate safely and securely, per the Department’s mission.”
Reburn specifically commented on the department’s efforts when he said, “The Department has launched an aggressive recruitment campaign that provides newly hired correctional officers with a $5,000 sign-on bonus, on top of the competitive salary increase for Correctional Officers that went into effect in 2019, which puts NECX’s Officers in line with the compensation received by other area law enforcement agencies. Current Correctional Officers were awarded a $4,000 retention bonus, and all staff are eligible for a $1,000 referral bonus.” Reburn emphasized that “our facilities are operating safely and securely, and public safety is not at any risk of being compromised.”
The Tomahawk asked Reburn to comment on the potential of possibly necessary lockdown or the calling on more enforcement due to the staffing shortage and the violent incidents occurring at the facility but has not heard back.
Calls to 911 dispatch of assaults and violent altercation between inmates or involving officers are regularly coming in. According to TDOC, Johnson County’s Northeast Correctional Complex annex is a minimum-security prison officially designated as a close custody facility. Close custody means that inmates must be within an armed perimeter and under direct, armed supervision once outside of that perimeter.
Reportedly, the annex holds a variety of different custody level inmates among its approximately 300 inmates.Earlier this year, an altercation with inmates at Northeast Correctional Complex (NECX) led to three injured parties, with one man succumbing to his injuries. Officials investigated to see what happened and reported that the incident occurred in a housing unit within the complex. Reburn confirmed that one man has died as a result of his injuries during the February 2021 incident.
Inmates at the NECX are provided assistance, including intensive anger management and substance abuse treatments along with counseling. The NECX participates in the TRICOR program employing inmates in hardwood flooring production. Offenders can also work in community service programs that provide labor to local state and government agencies performing tasks like clearing roadways of trash and debris, landscaping, and painting. Vocational training and educational courses, including adult basic education and earning a GED, are also available for inmates.
Please look for more information and updates on the facility’s status in upcoming editions of The Tomahawk. For those interested in careers with TDOC at NECX, information and applications can be found at www.tn.gov/correction. To find out more about NECX, call 727-7387 or visit tn.gov/correction and view its state prison listing.