Tennessee, we have a problem!
The Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) has entered into a contract with Trousdale County, Tennessee, to operate the soon-to-be-constructed Trousdale County Correctional Facility. Unfortunately, CCA is no stranger to Tennessee: the for-profit, private prison company is headquartered in Nashville.
Steve Owen, Public Affairs Director for CCA, claims that the 2,500 bed facility will create 400 new jobs for the county. Owen lauded the new facility:
“We’re very pleased, obviously, with the outcome of Trousdale County’s vote the other night, and we’re encouraged by the process...And we’re looking forward to helping the state of TN to meet its expressed correctional needs, and helping Trousdale County in that effort—while at the same time, bringing very positive economic impact to Trousdale and the surrounding counties."
Owen also claims that the prison will provide jobs for not only prison guards, but teachers, counselors, and medical staff. In addition, he purports that the private facility will contribute roughly $2-2.5 million in utilities and $1-1.5 million in property taxes. The revenue will allegedly benefit the local economy in general, but especially schools in the area.
Construction is estimated to me over by the 3rd or 4th quarter of 2015. That gives CCA enough time to recruit employees, according to Owen.
Others are not so thrilled with CCA's expansion into Trousdale County. Hedy Weinberg of The Tennessean finds CCA's problematic and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Tennessee has sent out a petition to ask Governor Bill Haslam to take action. Weinberg mentions CCA's fraudulent operations in Tennessee:
While proponents claim private prisons save governments money, evidence of cost savings is mixed at best. In Tennessee, taxpayers were contractually required to pay CCA nearly a half-million dollars for empty beds at the Nashville jail in 2011. In Idaho, CCA admitted in court to falsely billing the state for 4,800 hours of unstaffed security posts at one prison. An independent audit found that the number of unstaffed hours was probably closer to 26,000, and the FBI is currently investigating.
CCA also gave roughly $60,000 dollars to Tennessee's elected officials, including $27,000 to Governor Bill Haslam. Senator Lamar Alexander's wife, Honey Alexander, also owned stock in CCA in the 1980s. The company also claims that it does not lobby on incarceration issues, though it actually has eight lobbyists on Capitol Hill. CCA has even acknowledged that, if immigration reform and crime reduction become a reality, the demand for their services could be "adversely affected."
Presbyterian Church USA (2003): “Since the goal of for-profit private prisons is earning a profit for their shareholders, there is a basic and fundamental conflict with the concept of rehabilitation as the ultimate goal of the prison system. We believe that this is a glaring and significant flaw in our justice system and that for-profit private prisons should be abolished.”
CCA's expansion in Tennessee is particularly heartbreaking for me. Though I currently live and work as a missionary and immigration organizer in Austin, Texas, I was born and raised in Tullahoma, Tennessee. While Tennessee has its own unique set of problems, it will always consider the Volunteer State my home. I am saddened that CCA "lives" in Tennessee and is usurping our taxpayer dollars, which could be used to improve our schools and healthcare, to incarcerate people for profit. I think Tennesseans deserve better.
Governor Haslam, I urge you to take action and stand up for Tennesseans: tell CCA that they are no longer welcome in our state. I urge you to prioritize the life of our communities and our families and end our state's participation in the prison industrial complex machine. I also urge you and other elected officials (I'm looking at you, Lamar Alexander!) to no longer accept campaign or other contributions from CCA or any other private prison corporation. Y'all have been elected to be stewards of Tennessee, not profiteers on your constituents' incarceration!