NASHVILLE — The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee today sent a letter to members of the state Senate and House government operations committees urging members to ensure that the Tennessee Department of Correction requires CoreCivic to meet contractual obligations or else ends its relationship with the private prison corporation.
"CoreCivic has failed to deliver time and again on its promise to taxpayers of better, cheaper and safer prisons, as illustrated not only by the most recent Tennessee audit but by example after example of abuse and mismanagement across the country," said Hedy Weinberg, ACLU-TN executive director. "While we believe that ideally the state of Tennessee should completely end its relationship with CoreCivic, at a minimum it is crucial that legislators hold the Department of Correction's feet to the fire to ensure that CoreCivic meets its contractual obligations and protects the safety of correctional staff and inmates."
A recent state audit of CoreCivic facilities in Tennessee found that multiple CoreCivic facilities demonstrate a clear pattern of understaffing, as well as inadequate and error-ridden recordkeeping, that puts the safety of guards and inmates at risk. In fact, auditors found that CoreCivic's Trousdale facility's continued noncompliance with contract requirements makes it challenging for the Tennessee Department of Correction to even monitor the private prison.
ACLU-TN's letter explains that the problems found in the most recent audit are "not … new" but part of an ongoing "pattern of abuse, mismanagement and violence at [CoreCivic] facilities" across the country.
The letter describes an ACLU lawsuit against CoreCivic, then CCA, regarding an Idaho facility labeled the "Gladiator School" because it had four times the number of prisoner-on-prisoner assaults than the state's seven other prisons combined. During the course of the lawsuit it emerged that CoreCivic officials had falsified thousands of hours of records to make it appear as if they were actually staffing security posts that had remained empty. Ultimately, the federal court in Idaho found the company in contempt of court, extended the period of court supervision of CoreCivic's compliance, ordered the appointment of an independent monitor, and set prospective fines of $100 per hour for each mandatory post left unstaffed in the future. CoreCivic appealed the sanctions to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. In 2016, the appeals court upheld the sanctions against the company.
The letter also describes sexual assaults of detainees by a Texas CoreCivic guard which were made possible by understaffing; a CoreCivic facility in New Mexico with over a thousand inmates and no doctor for several months; and a CoreCivic facility in Mississippi which U.S Department of Justice auditors found had even more severe understaffing four years after a riot in which a CoreCivic employee was killed.
An Ohio prison described in the letter experienced a 300% increase in prisoner-on-staff assaults and a 187% increase in prisoner-on-prisoner assaults after being sold by the state to CoreCivic. CoreCivic was ordered to pay the state $500,000 for violations of 47 state standards, including prisoners being forced to defecate in bags because they lacked access to running water.
"As lawmakers consider how to proceed, we believe it's important for them to understand that the problems found in Tennessee's recent audit of CoreCivic facilities are part of a larger, longstanding pattern nationwide," Weinberg said. "Private corporations have a profit motive that incentivizes cutting corners, which ultimately compromises safety for staff, inmates and the community. We can't keep doing the same thing and expect different results."
In an unusual procedural rebuke, the joint government operations subcommittee declined to reauthorize the Tennessee Department of Correction at its last meeting due to concerns over the audit. The subcommittee meets again tomorrow.
A copy of ACLU-TN’s letter can be found at http://www.aclu-tn.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/ACLU-TN-CoreCivic-Letter-12-11-17.pdf.