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Tennessee: Incident Rates at CCA Facilities Higher Than at Public Prisons

According to an analysis of incidents involving assaults and disturbances at government-run and privately-managed prisons in Tennessee from January 2009 to June 2011, incident rates were consistently higher at the state’s three private prisons. Those were the findings released on October 18, 2011 by the Private Corrections Institute (PCI), a non-profit citizen watchdog group that opposes the privatization of correctional services.

Data obtained from the Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC) recorded incidents in 11 categories related to prisoner-on-prisoner assaults, prisoner-on-staff assaults and institutional disturbances. Data was reported for the state’s 11 prisons operated by the TDOC as well as three facilities that house state prisoners managed by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the nation’s largest private prison firm.

The three CCA facilities (South Central Correctional Facility, Hardeman County Correctional Facility and Whiteville Correctional Facility) held between 25 and 27 percent of Tennessee’s prison population between January 2009 and June 2011 – slightly over 5,000 prisoners.

While the average number of incidents per month per facility was 17.29 at the state-run prisons in 2009, the average number per month was 31.56 at each CCA facility. In 2010, the average number of incidents per month at each state prison was 19.58 and the average number was 31.69 at each CCA prison. During the first six months of 2011, the average number of incidents per month at state facilities was 20.38 while the average number per month at the CCA prisons was 29.56.

In terms of rates per 1,000 prisoner population, the privately-operated prisons had notably higher incident rates. For 2009, the average rate of incidents at the 11 state-run prisons was 13.92 per 1,000 population, while the average rate at the three CCA facilities was 18.68 – 34.2% higher than at TDOC prisons. The 2010 average rate of incidents at the state facilities was 14.50 per 1,000 population and the average rate at the CCA prisons was 18.71 – 29.1% higher. During the first six months of 2011, the average rate of incidents at TDOC prisons was 15.0 per 1,000 population while the average rate at the CCA facilities was 17.44 – 16.2% higher.

According to the TDOC’s website, the 11 state-operated prison complexes all are rated either close or maximum security (not including minimum-security annexes), while two of the three CCA prisons are rated medium (a lower security designation) and one is rated close. Thus, even though more higher-security prisoners – close and maximum – were housed in state-run prisons, the CCA facilities still had higher average numbers of incidents per facility and higher average incident rates over the time period examined.

In fact, during the 30-month period from January 2009 through June 2011, the average rate of incidents at TDOC prisons exceeded the rate at the privately-operated facilities only twice – in December 2009 and March 2011.

“This research confirms what other studies over the years have found – that privately-operated prisons have higher rates of assaults and other violent incidents than their public counterparts,” said PLN associate editor Alex Friedmann, who also serves as president of the Private Corrections Institute. “For example, according to an Associated Press report [in October 2011], a CCA facility in Idaho had more assaults than all other Idaho state prisons combined, based on 2010 data,” he stated. CCA settled a class-action lawsuit involving the Idaho Correctional Center in September 2011, agreeing to make changes to reduce the high levels of violence at that facility. [See: PLN, Nov. 2011, p.10].

“CCA will likely complain about the messenger, as the Private Corrections Institute is opposed to prison privatization,” said Friedmann, a former prisoner who served time at a CCA-operated prison in the 1990s. “But the message, which is based on data reported by the state’s Department of Correction for both public and private facilities, is very clear: privately-operated prisons in Tennessee have higher average numbers and rates of assaults and disturbances than public prisons, even though TDOC facilities house more prisoners with higher security levels. This indicates a serious problem with private prison management and also signifies a problem with the state’s oversight of the CCA-operated facilities.”

While the higher rate of incidents at private prisons has been decreasing (from 34.2% higher in 2009 to 16.2% higher in June 2011), this appears to have more to do with a rise in incidents at state prisons rather than significantly fewer incidents at CCA facilities.

PCI’s research mirrors other studies that have shown private prisons have higher rates of violence than their publicly-operated counterparts. According to a 2001 Bureau of Justice Assistance monograph, for example, private prisons had 65.8% more assaults on prisoners and 48.7% more assaults on staff than public prisons per 1,000 population. Further, a Tennessee study conducted by the Select Oversight Committee on Corrections in 1995 found that the CCA-operated South Central Correctional Facility “reported significantly more injuries to prisoners and staff,” with 214 injuries reported over a 15-month period compared with 21 and 51 injuries reported at two comparable state prisons.

It appears that not much has changed in the 16 years since the 1995 study, as private prisons in Tennessee still have higher average rates of assaults and disturbances as compared with state-run facilities.

Source: PCI press release

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