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Tennessee Extends CoreCivic Contract Despite Deaths, Almost $18 Million in Fines

In a three-minute meeting on May 31, 2023, the State Building Commission of Tennessee approved a request from the Department of Correction (DOC) for budget revision, funding, and amendment to the existing CoreCivic contract to operate South Central Correctional Facility (SCCF) in Wayne County.

The approval added two years to ­CoreCivic’s three-year contract at the prison, increasing the total payout from $118.18 million to $212.9 million, a jump of $8 million a year. State lawmakers took heat from critics who pointed to $18 million in fines CoreCivic has paid for “operational shortcomings” that have left prisoners dead and drawn multiple lawsuits.

The parents of three prisoners who died in CoreCivic-run prisons in 2021 are among those critics. The families of Chriteris Allen, Laeddie Coleman and Joshua Williams accused the company of “understaffing its four Tennessee prisons to increase shareholder profits by cutting costs, ignoring guards’ drug smuggling, refusing to get outside medical treatment for prisoners, and failing to provide a safe atmosphere for prisoners.” PLN also documented a complaint against CoreCivic for medical neglect in the 2020 suicide at SCCF of Addison Smith, 27. [See: PLN, Jan. 2021, p.28.]

State Rep. G. A. Hardaway (D-Memphis) says Tennessee’s relationship with the for-profit prison company is an “unholy alliance” that must be reconsidered because it’s a “critical part” of the state justice system. He noted that CoreCivic spends hefty sums in lobbying and donations to those who make prison decisions—$3.3 million since 2009—but he says the constitutionality of prison conditions should be DOC’s focus.

The contract extension did not sit well with Theeda Murphy, director of Abolition Works Tennessee. She wonders why lawmakers ignored a 2020 Comptroller’s report which revealed several issues with CoreCivic, including mishandled sexual abuse claims. “I’m wondering what the motivation is,” Murphy said. “It cannot be to provide rehabilitation because that’s not happening.” She added, “When you’re denying people food and medical care, then that means you are simply seeing them as dollars and cents.”

The day after state leaders voted, Gov. Bill Lee, (R), gave a thumbs up saying, “CoreCivic has been a partner to the state for many years and a good partner.” It probably does not hurt that CoreCivic is headquartered in Brentwood and has a significant in-state economic impact, generating an estimated $1.2 billion in revenue plus providing employment at four state prisons it operates and a Field Support Center in Nashville with over 500 corporate staff. The total number of CoreCivic jobs in Tennessee is estimated at 2,500.   

Sources: Tennessee Lookout, WKRN, Wayne County News

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