Metro Councilmembers announce legislation to end CoreCivic contract in Nashville

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Metro Councilmembers Emily Benedict (District 7) and Freddie O’Connell (District 19) announced Thursday they are sponsoring and pursuing legislation to end Metro Nashville’s contract with CoreCivic, the largest for-profit prison company in the U.S.

A release from Metro states the renewed effort became possible after Sheriff Daron Hall submitted new information to the Metro Council indicating the Davidson County Sheriff’s Office (DCSO) could assume operation of the Metro Detention Facility (MDF) with no material increase in costs to Metro taxpayers.

The bill will be heard on second reading at the July 7 Metro Council Meeting.

Thursday afternoon, Sheriff Hall released a statement regarding the legislation proposal.

“I have always said if the city wants the Davidson County Sheriff’s Office (DCSO) to assume
operation of the Metro Detention Center in an effort to end privatization of this prison, that could
happen under two conditions: 1.) DCSO has the money to operate it effectively and, 2.) enough
time to ensure a proper transition. After several discussions with the state of Tennessee, I am
confident the budget impact to Metro government is minimal aside from a $5 million start-up
cost. Additionally, under the proposed legislation, the date for the sheriff’s office to begin
operation of MDF is July 2022; giving the DCSO an adequate transition period.

It’s important to point out this change would be a philosophical one, not performance-based. We
have monitored this contract for more than 25 years and Core Civic has consistently met
contractual requirements.”

Sheriff Daron Hall, Davidson County Sheriff’s Office

A spokesperson for CoreCivic responded to the proposal, claiming that Metro Council is ‘pushing an agenda.’

Once again, it appears that some members of the Metro Nashville council are pushing an agenda that’s free of facts and ideologically driven. This proposed action would not only result in millions of dollars in increased liabilities to the Metro budget and taxpayers, but it would also potentially jeopardize the life-changing reentry programming currently delivered to those in our care.

Additionally, Councilmembers Benedict and O’Connell are being dishonest about our company. Contrary to statements in their press release, under longstanding policy, CoreCivic does not draft, lobby for, promote, or in any way take a position on proposals, policies, or legislation that determine the basis or duration of an individual’s incarceration. In fact, CoreCivic has been an outspoken advocate for numerous criminal justice reform initiatives, including the federal First Step Act, which has resulted in thousands of prisoner releases.

We are proud of our nearly 30-year partnership at the Metro-Davidson County Detention Facility and the extensive evidence-based reentry programming we provide to the State of Tennessee’s locally sentenced inmates in our care. We provide educational services and counseling to help individuals leaving incarceration achieve success in work and life.

Examples of CoreCivic-administered programs offered at Metro-Davidson County Detention Facility include Go Further, Men of Valor (faith-based ministry), victim impact, anger management, alcoholics and narcotics anonymous, Residential Drug Abuse Program (RDAP), Healing Journeys (faith-based), Second Chances dog socialization program, cosmetology, parenting, Paws Greyhound training program, Life Principles (faith-based), Unlock your Thinking, Motivated for Change, Sending Musicians to Prison, Wheel for the World, Adult Basic Education, Computer classes, My Song for Life, Lee Company HVAC program and financial management.

Amanda Gilchrist, Director of Public Affairs, CoreCivic

For more on the legislation proposal from Benedict and O’Connell, you can read Metro’s full release below:

Today Metro Councilmembers Emily Benedict (District 7) and Freddie O’Connell (District 19) announced they are sponsoring and pursuing legislation to end Metro Nashville’s contract with CoreCivic, the largest for-profit prison company in the U.S.

This renewed effort became possible after Sheriff Daron Hall submitted new information to the Metro Council indicating that based on ongoing negotiations with the Davidson County Sheriff’s Office (DCSO) could assume operation of the Metro Detention Facility (MDF) with no material increase in costs to Metro taxpayers.

“In 2017, I led an effort to give our Metro Council contractual oversight for privately operated correctional facilities as well as to strengthen accountability measures,” said O’Connell “We did this in preparation for the expiration of the CoreCivic contract at MDF in January of this year.”

That effort led to follow-up conversations. “I worked closely with DCSO on a feasibility analysis of their assuming operation of the MDF,” explained O’Connell. “When we completed that report, I was disappointed by the cost estimates.”

CM Benedict had a similar notion during her campaign. “When I was running for office in the summer of 2019, it came to my attention that the CoreCivic contract was up on January 31, 2020. I knew it was time for us to get out of the business of private prisons. I got to work on it as soon as I took office. And now we can finish the job.”

The CoreCivic contract is with the city but funded by the Tennessee Department of Corrections, and pays for incarceration of locally sentenced state inmates serving sentences between one to six years. It is important that local inmates serve their time locally so they can be closer to family than being sent to a penal institution further away in the state. Tennessee has these programs with many local sheriffs throughout the state. In Nashville, the Davidson

County Sheriff’s Office (DCSO) manages this contract and has oversight of the operations at the Davidson County Detention Center, however the day-to-day operations are managed by a profiteer.

CoreCivic, formally known as CCA (Correction Corporation of America), is the largest for-profit prison company in the U.S. Prior to 2018, the company was headquartered in Nashville. They have contracts for approximately 90,000 inmates in 60 prisons throughout the US, including immigration detention centers at the US border. They have managed the Davidson County Detention Facility for over 20 years. Currently they house roughly 875 inmates here.

They were the leader in creating laws that gave them a consistent revenue stream through incarceration of Americans. Their profits are based on imprisoning as many people as possible at the lowest possible cost because that is how they make money for themselves and their shareholders. The motivation of their business is profit, not people. Their business model is dependent on laws that cause more people to be jailed, and stay jailed. Inmates are their customers, and taxpayers fill their pockets.

If it was not clear before the current social justice reform movement, our criminal legal system needs its own reform.

The American people are demanding reform. Change can be incremental, and we must take advantage of opportunities when they present themselves. We have that opportunity now. We must remove this profiteer and put Nashvillian’s tax dollars to better use. Instead of paying executives millions, we must put those dollars into rehabilitation efforts, proper healthcare including mental health, and ensuring that our workers, [Nashvillians], who keep these inmates safe, receive fair and equitable pay instead of paying dividends to shareholders.

With confirmation that there will be no additional cost to Nashvillians nor to Tennesseans, the only obstacle to removing this profiteer is the people and the political will of their representatives. “Our Sheriff is ready to take on this responsibility, and I believe he will do it much better than this billion-dollar corporation. It is time that our local leaders stand with Nashvillians and effect real change. This is one such opportunity. We can do this, so let’s do it” said Benedict. The bill will be heard on second reading at the next Metro Council Meeting on Tuesday, July 7, 2020.

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