Skip navigation

Two murders in 7 months at CCA-operated prison in Tennessee

Prison Legal News, June 12, 2014.


Human Rights Defense Center

For Immediate Release
June 12, 2014

Second Murder in Seven Months at CCA-run Prison in Tennessee

Zero homicides in state prisons during same time period


Nashville, TN – The Office of the Medical Examiner recently completed an autopsy report on Tennessee state prisoner Jeffery Sills, 43, who was murdered at the South Central Correctional Facility in Wayne County on March 28, 2014. The facility is operated by the Nashville-based Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the nation’s largest for-profit prison company.

Sills’ death was classified as a homicide caused by “blunt and sharp force injuries.” He was allegedly beaten and stabbed to death by his cellmate, Travis Bess, who was later transferred to the Riverbend Maximum Security Institution and placed in administrative segregation.

Jeffery Sills was at least the second prisoner murdered at the CCA-run prison since September 1, 2013, when Gerald Ewing, 28, was killed during a series of fights at the facility.

Comparably, according to the Tennessee Department of Correction there were no homicides at state-run prisons in calendar year 2013 and to date this year.

Jeffery Sills’ death was particularly brutal, according to the autopsy report. He suffered lacerations, abrasions and contusions to his head and neck, fractured cheek and nasal bones, cutting and stab/puncture wounds, and hemorrhages in the “posterior cervical spinal muscles” and “skeletal muscle of back and intercostal muscles of posterior thorax.”

Alex Friedmann, associate director of the Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC), a non-profit organization that advocates for the rights of people who are incarcerated, said both prisoners and a CCA staff member employed at South Central contacted 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. Regardless, they were both put in the same cell with predictable results.” Additionally, “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,” said Friedmann, who served six years at South Central himself prior to his release in 1999.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is currently investigating Sills’ death and has reportedly indicated that an indictment will issue soon.

“Two murders within seven months is extremely disturbing,” Friedmann stated, “especially considering that CCA houses about 5,000 state prisoners in three facilities while around 15,000 prisoners are held in 11 state-run facilities. Yet despite holding one-third as many prisoners, none of whom are classified maximum-security, two murders occurred at a CCA facility and zero in state prisons within the same time period.”

According to research conducted by HRDC, 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).

“Other studies have also found higher levels of violence at privately-managed prisons,” said Friedmann. “This is presumably due to the business model of the private prison industry, which must cut costs in order to generate profit. Those cuts, particularly in regard to staffing costs, lead to high staff turnover rates, understaffing and thus less security at private prisons. Consequently there are higher rates of violence – up to and including murder, evidently.”

The FBI is currently investigating fraudulent staffing reports at a CCA prison in Idaho.

There have been two other recent homicides at CCA-operated prisons in other states, including the November 2013 murder of Michael Patrick McNaughton, 55, who was beaten to death at a CCA-run facility 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 Human Rights Defense Center, founded in 1990 and based in Lake Worth, Florida, is a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting human rights in U.S. detention facilities. HRDC publishes Prison Legal News (PLN), a monthly magazine that includes reports, reviews and analysis of court rulings and news related to prisoners’ rights and criminal justice issues. PLN has around 9,000 subscribers nationwide and operates a website ( that includes a comprehensive database of prison and jail-related articles, news reports, court rulings, verdicts, settlements and related documents.


For further information, please contact:

Alex Friedmann

Associate Director

Human Rights Defense Center

(615) 495-6568


Paul Wright

Executive Director

Human Rights Defense Center

(561) 360-2523