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HRDC raises questions about murders at CCA prison in TN

Nashville Scene, June 16, 2014.

Does CCA Have a Prison-Murder Problem?

POSTED BY  ON MON, JUN 16, 2014 AT 12:00 PM

In the last seven months, there have been two murders at a Tennessee prison run by Corrections Corporation of America.

In all of 2013, and in 2014 to date, there have been zero at state-run prisons.

That disparity has led to renewed charges from anti-prison-privatization activists that efforts by CCA and other private prison corporations to cut costs and boost profits leave inmates less safe and lead to an increased risk of violence at their facilities.

The Human Rights Defense Center highlighted the incidents in a release following the completion of an autopsy report on Jeffery Sills, the 43-year-old inmate who was allegedly murdered by his cell mate at the CCA-run South Central Correctional Facility in Wayne County in March. The HRDC calls Sills "at least the second prisoner murdered" at the prison "since Sept. 1 2013, when Gerald Ewing, 28, was killed during a series of fights at the facility."

The largest for-profit prison operator in the country, Nashville-based CCA operates six facilities in Tennessee with another on the way.

The HRDC's associate director is Alex Friedmann, a former South Central inmate himself, who is also managing editor of Prison Legal News, a renegade CCA shareholder and one of their most persistent critics. Friedmann says, in the HRDC release, that prisoners and a CCA staff member at the facility contacted the HRDC after Sills' death.

“Several prisoners said Bess had publicly stated he would kill Jeffrey Sills if they were placed in a cell together, and that CCA guards were present when he made that statement," Friedmann says. "Regardless, they were both put in the same cell with predictable results.”

Friedmann adds that “the CCA employee who contacted us reported that Sills had asked to be placed in protective custody, but prison staff failed to act on his request before he was murdered.”

Citing their own research, the HRDC says: "historically there have been higher rates of violence at the three CCA-operated facilities in Tennessee than in state prisons. Based on the most recent data provided by the Department of Correction, during the first five months of 2013 the average rate of violent incidents at the CCA-run prisons was 24.6% higher than at state facilities. (This includes statistical data related to prisoner-on-prisoner assaults, prisoner-on-staff assaults and institutional disturbances)."

The release also notes murders at CCA-run facilities in other states, including the November 2013 murder of Michael Patrick McNaughton, 55, in Florence, Arizona, and the March 2014 murder of California prisoner Todd 
Bush, 33, at the CCA-run North Fork Correctional Facility in Oklahoma.

The FBI is currently investigating CCA's operation of a Nevada prison at which the company acknowledges significant understaffing and says employees falsified records to cover up vacancies.

Tennessee Bureau of Investigations spokesman Josh DeVine confirms to Pith that the TBI is investigating Sills' death.

"We opened a case on April 1, 2014 at the request of 22nd District Attorney General Mike Bottoms," DeVine says. "As of today, that case remains active and ongoing."

CCA spokesman Jonathan Burns did not respond specifically to questions about whether CCA guards or officials ignored threats on Sills' life and whether the company was making any changes after the two incidents. He did send along the following statement:

Clearly these were tragic incidents that have been and will continue to be looked at closely by law enforcement authorities, and our government partner, with our full support. We take them very seriously, as we do the safety of inmates at all of our facilities.
Unfortunately, no corrections system is immune to incidents, and while we do not condone or accept violent behavior in any form, CCA’s track record of safe, secure facilities over 30 years of experience speaks to the company’s commitment in this critical area.
It’s unfortunate that Mr. Friedmann would exploit this situation to try to advance the ideological agenda that he’s paid to promote. Obviously, any numbers he cites or conclusions he draws are done so selectively, and without the credibility of an unbiased viewpoint.

Pith asked this morning whether the statements of a corporate spokesman should be similarly questioned. So far, no response.




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