Category Archives: Privatization

CCA faces lawsuit over menstruation strip searches

By Travis Loller, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Private prison operator Corrections Corporation of America is trying to seal from public view documents in a lawsuit that claim female visitors to a Tennessee prison were forced to undergo strip searches to prove they were menstruating.

Three women have accused the company of violating their rights by forcing them to expose their genitals to guards after they tried to bring sanitary pads or tampons into South Central Correctional Facility, about 85 miles southwest of Nashville. One woman said her three children had to witness the search.

Protective orders in the case allow documents that could pose a security risk to the prison to be filed under seal. Each side is accusing the other of violating those orders. Continue reading

Haslam defends private prison operations

The federal government may be moving to end operation of its prisons by private companies and the Tennessee State Employees Association may be calling for the same at the state level, but Nashville Post Politics reports that Gov. Bill Haslam thinks Tennessee’s four private prisons are working just fine.

“[The feds] make the decisions that they would,” Haslam said when asked if Tennessee should phase out private prisons. “I think if you talk to Tony Parker, who’s our commissioner of corrections, he would say we provide supervision and oversight to private prisons just like we do to ours.”

All four state private prisons, along with Davidson and Hamilton Counties’ jails, are operated by the Nashville-based Corrections Corporation of America.

…When asked if he had read Shane Bauer’s lengthy investigative story for Mother Jones, in which he went undercover as prison guard in a CCA prison in Louisiana, exposing appalling conditions for prisoners and guards alike, Haslam shook his head.

“No, but my experience with Mother Jones is that they’re not exactly a level playing field, in terms of private interest and private enterprise. But I would say this, our corrections folks are confident they provide the same level of oversight and the same accountability to private operators as we do in our own facilities,” Haslam said.

Also, in response to a previous post (HERE) of a TSEA press release, Department of Correction Public Information Officer Alison Randgaard has sent via email the following departmental statement and Parker comment:

Statement: The Tennessee Department of Correction works closely with CCA and currently has no plans to end our contract with CCA or any of the counties that contract with CCA.

Quote from Commissioner Tony Parker: “While I have no direct knowledge of the specific circumstances surrounding the Deputy Attorney General’s directive, this decision does not unilaterally affect prison operations for Tennessee. Currently the Department of Correction is satisfied that CCA managed facilities are being operated in accordance with state policies and Correctional Standards. TDOC has many policies and procedures in place for monitoring and inspection of all of our prisons, including the privately managed facilities. The CCA managed facilities are held to the same high-standards as all of the TDOC managed facilities.”

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.” Continue reading

Haslam outsourcing review, implementation tied together

Critics of Gov. Bill Haslam’s efforts to privatize most state building management services say the administration should complete a promised independent accounting review of claimed cost savings before engaging with potential bidders in an experimental process for developing government contracts, reports the Times-Free Press.

082116charlie (Cartoon by Charlie Daniel.)

Instead, beginning Monday, the Republican administration is doing both at the same time. Democratic lawmakers and a higher education union official say that’s putting the proverbial cart before the horse.

“We’re still waiting on a promised ‘audit’ from the governor’s office that will prove that the claims they’re making about savings could happen and [which] are not already being done efficiently and effectively by folks in-house who are public workers,” Thomas Walker, a coordinator with the United Campus Workers union, said last week during a conference call with equally critical Democratic legislators.

The administration’s Office of Customer Focused Government claims the state can save $36 million a year by outsourcing 90 percent of building management in general state government and higher education.

The state’s real estate portfolio comprises more than 7,500 structures totaling 94 million square feet. Cleaning, repairing and operating them costs an estimated $550 million a year.

…While critics question why the KraftCPAs review and negotiations are occurring simultaneously, Michelle Martin, spokeswoman for the Office of Customer Focused Government, said officials are simply “gathering information through a multi-step, procurement process.”

Participants include representatives from the University of Tennessee, Tennessee Board of Regents, legislative and “general government leadership,” Martin said.

UT and Board of Regents officials are skeptical that contractors can operate more efficiently than they do already and have questioned some of the administration’s figures, including energy cost savings.

Regarding the simultaneous processes of the independent review and discussions with qualified companies on how to fashion the privatization contract, Martin emphasized that “conducting information gathering activities concurrently does not mean a decision has been made nor does it obligate the state to pursue a final arrangement.

“It simply allows the state to continue to gather critical data needed to make informed decisions as good stewards of taxpayer resources,” she added.

Democrats renew bashing of Haslam outsourcing

News release from Sen. Lee Harris and Rep. John Ray Clemmons
NASHVILLE, TN—Today, Senate Minority Leader Lee Harris, D-Memphis, and State Rep. John Ray Clemmons, D-Nashville, joined the United Campus Workers on a telephone call with statewide press to discuss the status of Gov. Bill Haslam’s plans to outsource thousands of state jobs, including facility maintenance jobs at Tennessee’s colleges and universities.

“Sen. Harris and I didn’t come to our position on this issue in blind opposition to the governor’s plan,” state Rep. Clemmons said. “After learning about his intentions through media reports, we followed up on the public’s concerns with roundtable discussions at UT Knoxville and UT Chattanooga. These were well-attended, public discussions where people who would be directly affected were overwhelmingly opposed to Gov. Haslam’s outsourcing agenda.

“This is about jobs and families, and this governor has consistently conspired to eliminate the jobs of thousands of Tennesseans. By trying to sell anything that isn’t nailed down, Haslam has negatively impacted the lives of thousands of Tennessee families. There’s no proof that government will operate more efficiently, but there is a track record of failed attempts that have cost Tennessee taxpayers millions of dollars.” Continue reading

On a Ferris wheel flip and TN safety inspections

By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Investigators have not yet determined how a Ferris wheel seat flipped over at a Tennessee county fair, sending three children plummeting 30 to 45 feet to the ground. But the accident that left a 6-year-old girl with a traumatic brain injury sharpened the focus Tuesday on how carnival ride operators are regulated.

After a 2014 audit found shortcomings in Tennessee’s regulatory program for rides at fairs and amusement parks, state officials decided to get out of the inspection business altogether. Now, the state relies on private inspectors hired by operators and other states’ regulators to determine whether roller coasters, zip lines and Ferris wheels are safe.

Authorities said the three youngsters fell from the ride at the Greene County Fair in eastern Tennessee on Monday night.

In a follow-up to the audit last year, the agency said Tennessee law does not require the state to hire its own inspectors. Funding for the Amusement Device Unit was requested for the budget year ending in June but was denied. Continue reading

Aramark gets state prison food contract

After opting to end its relationship with a troubled state-based food provider, the Tennessee Department of Correction chose a company with its own history of issues as its replacement, reports The Tennessean.

The department plans to award its food services contract to Aramark, a massive Philadelphia-based company that provides food for many large venues across the country, including Nissan Stadium.

“After the State and Aramark negotiate and finalize a contract, the expected start date for food delivery will be October 1, 2016,” the department said in a news release issued late Wednesday. Continue reading

State vehicle outsourcing costs going over budget

A move by Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration to turn the state’s vehicle operations over to private companies is costing taxpayers millions of dollars more than state legislators were told, according to WTVF-TV.

“When we look at something like this and it turns out that the proposed budget and the actual is not even close, that’s very concerning,” said state Rep. Mark Pody, R-Lebanon.

It was part of Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam’s promise to run state government more like a business.

While state employees once handled most maintenance of state vehicles, the Haslam administration outsourced the work to a private company. A fleet of state vehicles were once kept on standby for state workers, but that job was outsourced to Enterprise’s WeCar program. The administration also sold off hundreds of state-owned trucks and cars, choosing instead to lease them — all supposedly to save money.

But a careful analysis of state budget documents suggests the state’s motor vehicle management operations have consistently blown through the budget numbers given to state lawmakers, now costing taxpayers more than ever.

In 2011-2012, the Haslam administration proposed a motor vehicle budget of $32.5 million dollars, but they overspent by more than $10 million. The next year, they were $11 million over budget. And in 2014, they overspent by $12 million.

From an annual budget of $38 million in 2011, the state’s motor vehicle budget is now up to $46 million. All that despite a major drop in gas prices.

…State officials say the budget numbers are complicated by the fact that, when other departments want to purchase vehicles — a fire truck, for example — those expenditures flow through the exact same account. That can make it difficult for taxpayers to know what to believe.

…In 2012-2013, the motor vehicle budget given to lawmakers was $32 million. But the Haslam administration came up with an “adjusted budget” of $67 million. So when they spent $43 million, they claimed they were actually under budget.

“If I have the ability to double the amount in my budget every year from the original proposed budget to the adjusted budget, I could come in under budget every year,” Stamps said. “I believe that’s what they’ve tried to do.”

And the administration’s own numbers show major budget adjustments every single year.

…The state’s budget director, David Thurman, told NewsChannel 5 Investigates that our investigation raised “a fair question” and that officials could do a better job of making sure lawmakers and the public are given the real numbers.

Prisoners, TDOC staff join in celebrating Schofield resignation?

NBC News has done a lengthy critique of Department of Correction operations under Commissioner Derrick Schofield, reporting that prisoners, families, advocates and many staff have cautiously celebrated his announced resignation while Gov. Bill Haslam praised him.

Violence against officers brushed under the rug. Widespread resignations and dangerous understaffing. Exhausted officers overseeing chaotic prisons. Outsourcing to a poorly-staffed private facility. Those are the stories told by a chorus of voices that rarely speak as one — current and former staff as well as prisoners, families and advocates.

“I want to know what kind of fantasy world [Haslam’s] living in,” said Jeannie Alexander, founder of the prisoner-rights group No Exceptions and a former prison chaplain. “This is not a safe, healthy, well-functioning prison system by any stretch of the imagination.”

In a brief interview with NBC News last week, Schofield said he was proud of the system he built. He’s leaving to become a vice president at the GEO Group, one of the country’s largest private corrections companies.

“I look back and there is nothing I would have done differently,” he told NBC News.

Herenton’s push for state contract to house juvenile offenders gets support

The Shelby County Commission Monday approved, on an 8-2 vote, a resolution urging the state Department of Children’s Service to send juvenile offenders to NewPath Restorative Campuses, a new firm founded by former Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton, reports the Commercial Appeal.

In May, Herenton presented to the commission his plan for NewPath: two 200-bed facilities on 40 acres in Frayser and Millington that would provide wraparound services that include medical and mental health care and educational and vocational training.

There is nothing like it in existence in Tennessee and it “will be an exemplary model for the nation,” Herenton told the commission.

Juvenile offenders from Shelby County are being sent to facilities outside the county, taking with them $17 million in funding spent to care for them, Herenton told the commission in his May presentation.

NewPath, a nonprofit, would hire hundreds of people at each facility.

Herenton said studies have found that when juveniles are housed close to home, they are less likely to offend again.

Commissioners Mark Billingsley and Walter Bailey abstained from the vote.

Bailey noted his opposition to facilities for juveniles and said he didn’t know enough about the proposal.

“On other hand I must say parenthetically, I don’t subscribe to privatizing penal facilities as a rule. You have to do a lot of selling to convince me otherwise,” Bailey said.