TN Taxpayers paying CCA for empty prison beds under Nashville contract

Taxpayers paid nearly a half-million dollars over the past two years for empty beds at Metro’s private prison, reports The Tennessean.

A 2009 contract between Metro Government and Corrections Corporation of America guarantees that the private prison company will be paid for 90-percent capacity in the women’s section of its Metro Detention Facility. But records show that the private-run prison has rarely been that full, putting taxpayers on the hook for $487,917.27 worth of empty beds since 2011, when it first began booking female prisoners. Such quota systems are commonplace across the nation but prompt criticism, in Nashville and elsewhere, that the arrangements are better for private corporations than taxpayers.

…In The Public Interest, a Washington, D.C.-based research center critical of government privatization efforts recently released a report calling private prisons’ inmate quotas a “low-crime tax” that penalizes taxpayers for having fewer felons.

“We’ve made their returns more important than our schools, our prisons, our roads, our parks, everything we desperately need. That should never happen,” said Donald Cohen, the center’s executive director. “That $500,000 that you described … would absolutely do good things in communities in Tennessee.”

Criticism of the deal is coming from closer to home, too. Darren Jernigan is both a Metro councilman and a state legislator who thinks taxpayers are punished by the arrangement.

“Absolutely not, it’s not a good deal for taxpayers,” said Jernigan, D-Nashville, who has been an outspoken critic of privatizing government functions. “That’s precisely what they would yell at the government for, being wasteful.”

…(W)hile Metro cut the deal, the Tennessee Department of Correction actually pays for the beds at the CCA facility. Dorinda Carter, spokeswoman for TDOC, said such capacity quotas are not uncommon in contracts with private prisons, but need to be “managed optimally.”

“The state paid Metro for what we understood were reasonable costs,” she said. “Yes, we want to pay only for the beds that are being utilized. We review all contracts aggressively to see where we can leverage savings, particularly with contracts that are five years or older, to ensure we are getting the best deal possible that works for both parties.”