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TN bill would restrict where CCA prisoners can file suit

Associated Press, March 4, 2015.

Bill would restrict the location where inmates at private prisons can file lawsuits

NASHVILLE, Tennessee — Corrections Corporation of America could not be sued anywhere in Tennessee except for the county where the private prison targeted by the lawsuit is operated, under a bill filed in the state legislature.

A lawmaker who sponsored the proposal said it would increase safety because it will prevent inmates from being transferred across the state to go to court. A critic, however, says that judges and even juries in small towns that rely on jobs at those private prisons are likely to be biased in favor of Nashville-based CCA.

Inmates at state-operated prisons under the Tennessee Department of Correction must file their lawsuits against the prison system in the county where they are being housed, said Rep. William Lamberth, R-Cottontown, the bill's sponsor. He said his bill not only puts CCA prisoners under the same rules as inmates in government-operated prisons, it cuts down on the cost and risk of transporting prisoners across county lines.

"It's really a safety issue and it's a cost issue as well," Lamberth said.

But one advocate for inmates say prisoner transportation isn't an issue.

"The vast majority of inmates are not transferred to civil hearings," said Alex Friedmann, managing editor of Prison Legal News. Friedmann, who has sued CCA, said judges and juries in small towns are more likely to be biased in favor of the giant private-prison operator because they bring jobs to their communities.

"All politics is local and that includes in the courts," Friedmann said.

The bill follows a Tennessee Supreme Court decision involving a former CCA inmate who sued claiming his leg was amputated because jailers let an ankle infection fester and did not give him proper medical care at the CCA Whiteville Correctional Facility in Hardeman County. CCA has denied the allegations.

Sandy Womack sued in Davidson County, but CCA said state law required that the case be heard in Hardeman County, where the prison is located. The Tennessee Supreme Court said that a state law requiring inmates to file suit in the county where the prison is located only applies to facilities under the Department of Correction.