The September 14, 2019, death of prisoner Albert Dorsey, 60, at the Hardeman County Correctional Facility (HCCF), a private prison operated by Tennessee-based CoreCivic, was initially called a suicide by the medical examiner. The prison’s report said he died alone in his cell that “no one else had access” to.
However, when his autopsy was released in January 2020 it revealed he had been killed. That makes him the fourth prisoner murdered at HCCF since October 2014.
The murders at HCCF, a minimum-to-medium security prison, account for 30% of the prisoner homicides reported in Tennessee over the past five years. Yet HCCF holds only 9% of the state’s prisoner population.
CoreCivic operates three other prisons in the state: Whiteville Correctional Facility, South Central Correctional Facility, and Trousdale-Turner Correctional Center. All are minimum-to-medium security except for South Central, which is minimum-toclose, meaning some prisoners there require “heightened supervision.”
Minimum-security prisoners require the least supervision while medium-security prisoners may have “minor disciplinary issues,” according to the Tennessee Department of Correction.
About 35% of Tennessee’s prisoners are incarcerated at one of the prisons operated by CoreCivic. Yet 63% of the state’s prison homicides occur there. When asked about the disparity by the Jackson Sun, CoreCivic said the statistics were misleading because the company housed a larger proportion of prisoners who were convicted of murder and other violent crimes than the DOC, and none of its prisons housed females, who are less violent than men.
Taking those contentions into account, the Jackson Sun reviewed five years of data and controlled for a similar prisoner population, matching the four CoreCivic prisons with five all-male DOC prisons that had a similar number of prisoners and a slightly higher percentage of prisoners who had been convicted of violent offenses. The homicide rate at the DOC prisons was 0.59 per 1,000 prisoners. At the CoreCivic prisons, it was 1.29 per 1,000 prisoners — more than double the DCC rate.
The truth may be yet worse. As the Jackson Sun noted, a July 2019 report by the No Exceptions Prison Collective and the Human Rights Defense Center, which publishes PLN, used average total prison population counts from March 2014 through June 2019 to show the murder rate in the state’s CoreCivic prisons was over four times the DOC’s rate.
As for Dorsey, his cellmate subsequently confessed to strangling him with a bedsheet. So why did the prison initially report that Dorsey was alone in his cell that no one else had access to? Was it an attempt to cover up the homicide? That would be consistent with a recent state comptroller’s audit that showed both CoreCivic and the DOC were misreporting the causes of prisoner deaths.
“We noted several incidents where information related to incidents was incorrect, incomplete, or not entered at all,” according to the audit. It found eight of 38 prisoner deaths reported by the DOC between 2017 and 2019 were incorrectly labeled as due to natural causes. In fact, five were drug overdose deaths, two were homicides and one was a suicide.
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