TSEA urges end to TN prison privatization

News release from Tennessee State Employees Association
NASHVILLE – In light of the concerns outlined last week by the Deputy Attorney General of the U.S. Department of Justice about the deficiencies of private prisons, and due to the recent increase in private prison facilities in Tennessee, TSEA is calling for an immediate stop to any further state contracts with private prisons and a reduction or end to the use of all private prisons in Tennessee.

“Last week’s Department of Justice decision to reduce, and ultimately end, its use of private prisons should have Tennessee considering taking similar action,” TSEA President Bryan Merritt said. “Commissioner Tony Parker and all the employees at the Tennessee Department of Correction do a great job on a daily basis, and there is simply no good reason to continue paying a private prison company that provides an inferior product, lower levels of safety and security, and debatable cost savings for the public.”

There are also questions surrounding the number of private prisons currently operating in Tennessee. Tennessee code annotated § 41-24-103(c) says, “A contract for correctional services as defined in § 41-24-102(2)(F) is authorized only for one (1) medium security or minimum security facility opened after July 1, 1991, and only according to the requirements and procedures specified in this chapter.” In Tennessee, Corrections Corporation of America operates three facilities: Whiteville Correctional Facility, Hardeman County Correctional Facility, and the Trousdale Turner Correction center.

CCA’s private prison contracts also contain occupancy guarantees of 90 percent which require taxpayers to fund private prison operations at all times based on a minimum of 90 percent occupancy, even if the facility is only 50 percent full. In addition, private prison contracts put taxpayers on the hook for guaranteed annual 2.5 percent operating Per Diem Rate increases. For comparison, correctional officers working at state-run facilities do not receive guaranteed pay increases.

“Thirty years ago, the members of our Legislature had the foresight to statutorily limit state contracts with private prison companies to only one; nonetheless, private prison conglomerate CCA has figured out how to get around state law by contracting with local counties to operate more than one private prison in Tennessee,” Merritt said. “We think they are misreading the law, but we’d love to know what our Attorney General thinks of CCA’s interpretation of the statute.”

NOTE/Update: In response to this release, the Department of Correction sent out a statement that’s incorporated into a newer post (HERE) on Gov. Bill Haslam defending the state’s privately-operated prisons.