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Editorial by PLN associate editor re private prison in TN

Tennessean, Jan. 1, 2008.
Editorial by PLN associate editor re private prison in TN - Tennessean 2008

March 7, 2008

Long list of problems exists in use of CCA


Corrections Corporation of America, the nation's largest for-profit prison firm, has a history in Tennessee that dates back to 1983. It hasn't always been a proud history, though.

Last May, the warden of CCA's Hardeman County facility assaulted an inmate who was in restraints. The warden resigned, was prosecuted and pled guilty. The prison's internal affairs officer was charged with an unrelated assault.

On July 30, 2007, a riot occurred at CCA's South Central Correctional Center in Wayne County. The company's tactical officers responded; however, there was a delay when they tried to enter the housing units because no one had the gate keys.

On Jan. 14, 2008, an inmate at the CCA-run Metro-Davidson County Detention Facility was beaten to death by his cellmate. Also, a prisoner escaped from CCA's Metro jail. CCA initially didn't know he had absconded on Feb. 16.

Those are just the latest in a long line of assaults, escapes, inmate and employee deaths, and riots at CCA facilities in Tennessee.

Most people don't care because they don't have a private prison in their backyard. That will soon change for residents of Trousdale County, where CCA plans to build a 2,040-bed detention center.

Type of jobs an issue

Proponents cite the estimated 350 jobs the prison will bring. But what kind of jobs?

According to internal CCA documents, as recently as October 2007, guards at the Hardeman County prison were paid a starting wage of $9.41 an hour; after two years, they were earning less than $10.25. An administrative clerk at the prison was hired at $7.67 per hour.

CCA's supporters also point to taxes and fees the company will pay. Those payments are partially offset by other costs, such as $6 million in water and sewage upgrades that Trousdale County will make in preparation for the prison. In at least two cases, in Ohio and Texas, CCA was sued over tax breaks and failure to pay taxes owed. In another case, CCA sued the state of New Mexico in an attempt to recover $2.5 million in tax payments.

A 2003 report titled, "Big Prisons, Small Towns," found that incarceration is a poor form of economic development. Once a city becomes a "prison town" other industries are less likely to move in, making the community dependent on the facility for income — and in the case of a private prison, at the mercy of the company that owns it.

Last month, CCA threatened to remove inmates from one of the company's prisons in Colorado if the state didn't increase its payments. After a for-profit facility is filled, the contracting government agencies can be held captive to rate increases or other demands, as they have nowhere else to put their prisoners.

The residents of Trousdale County may be stuck with a private prison despite the objections of concerned community members whose repeated requests for a public hearing were denied. Those who favor the CCA facility will deserve exactly what they get.