NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — The state of Tennessee awarded private company CoreCivic a new two-year contract extension (with a third-year option) with more money for its South Central Correctional Facility in Clifton, Tennessee.

“People are dying, people are overdosing, and nothing is being done about it,” Theeda Murphy said. “They are pretending like nothing is happening and everything is okay.”

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Murphy, the director of Abolition Works Tennessee, lamented the new deal, pointing to several audits and issues the private prison company has faced.

CoreCivic owns four prisons across the state, including Trousdale Turner Correctional Center.

“I am very disappointed that they, first of all, ignored the Comptroller’s reports of 2019-2020,” Murphy said.

The Tennessee Comptroller found widespread problems in CoreCivic prisons in an audit it released in 2020, including mishandling of sexual abuse claims.

That audit came after a 2017 audit revealed rampant problems at Trousdale Turner.

“I’m wondering what the motivation is,” Murphy said. “It cannot be to provide rehabilitation because that’s not happening.”

But the day after state leaders unanimously voted to extend the contract, Gov. Bill Lee (R-Tennessee) doubled down on the private prison company. “CoreCivic’s been a partner to the state for many years and a good partner.”

Lee said the state would continue to work with the private company in the foreseeable future.

“They’re also a partner who takes seriously, accountability, and investigates issues that come up in their prisons, the same way the state does when we have an issue at a prison,” Lee said.

But advocates pushed against that, bringing up the notion that the company has paid out nearly $18 million in fines and either settled or is litigating multiple other lawsuits.

“They don’t see them as human beings, obviously. At the very least, they should be treating the people like people. They’re not animals, they’re not property, they’re not subhuman,” Murphy said. “When you’re denying people food and medical care, then that means you are simply seeing them as dollars and cents.”

When asked for comment, CoreCivic pointed to the fact that many issues do not deal with South Central and said they do not comment on current or pending litigation.

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A spokesperson offered a more broad statement about the company’s relationship with the state:

CoreCivic greatly appreciates our long-term partnership with the Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC) and we value the trust they’ve placed in us for more than 30 years at the South Central Correctional Facility (SCCF).

Even though we were not immune to the staffing challenges that all employers faced during the pandemic, we are grateful that applications to job postings have increased significantly, and positions have and are continuing to be filled.

Our dedicated professionals at SCCF, and our other facilities across the state work to provide a safe, humane, and appropriate environment for those entrusted to us by TDOC, and we are constantly striving to deliver an even better standard of care.

The SCCF team – including teachers, counselors, chaplains, correctional officers and many other professionals –has helped thousands of individuals achieve success in work and life after incarceration, whether that’s helping them earn a GED or vocational certificate or address substance use challenges. We’re also grateful for the community support we’ve gotten from Clifton and the surrounding area.

Our top priority at SCCF, and all of our facilities, is the safety of our staff and those entrusted to our care. The introduction of contraband in correctional settings is a nationwide challenge that requires close and constant collaboration to prevent. CoreCivic works as one team along with local and state law enforcement on investigative and intervention efforts to remove, detect, and prevent the introduction of contraband at any of our facilities. 

The three-decade history we’ve had at SCCF is just one example of the continuity we see in Tennessee and around the country with government partners choosing to work with CoreCivic over the course of many years.