A recent article by the Tennessee Lookout laid bare some of the persistent troubles that afflict private correctional facilities, most of which Abolish Private Prisons has been warning about for years. The article focused on the staggering 146% turnover rate among private correctional guards in 2023, which obviously implicates safety, but the audit also unearthed 10 major adverse findings, casting a stark spotlight on the inner workings of CoreCivic underlining the problems of privatized prison management.

This staffing turmoil forces the guards into arduous 70-hour+ workweeks, putting the safety of both inmates and staff at risk.

CoreCivic has spent $3.3 million on lobbying and contributions to Tennessee lawmakers since 2009, so the decision to extend the contract amidst these revelations is in some ways unsurprising. Despite a track record marred by contractual shortcomings, the State Building Commission greenlit an $8 million addition this year, increasing the cumulative disbursements to $219.9 million, despite CoreCivic being forced to pay “$20 million in liquidated damages in the last few years for failing to meet contract requirements, mainly through staff shortages.”

These decisions highlight the prioritization of profit margins over the welfare of incarcerated individuals and staff. As the article noted: “The parents of three inmates who died in CoreCivic-run prisons over four months in 2021 accused the private company of putting profits ahead of safety and failing to oversee guards and took legal action.”

But Corrections Commissioner Frank Strada (formerly from Arizona, another state that continues to deal with horrific private prison performance) keeps excusing CoreCivic’s performance problems. State Representative John Ray Clemmons, on the other hand, noted that these audits show the same problems over and over again, concluding that “CoreCivic and privatized prisons are a cancer on our penal systems.” Amen to that.

Along with staff turnover concerns, the audit highlights a series of problems, including long waiting lists for behavioral health and education programs, non-compliance with the Prison Rape Elimination Act, and inadequate investigation information about sexual abuse (including closing investigations before receiving the results of rape kits and failing to send other kits to the state for review).

Despite Commissioner Strada’s assurances of improvements, many questions remain about the state’s commitment to ensuring the safety and well-being of prisoners. And it is no surprise to us here at APP that these continue to plague the private prisons in Tennessee, because the drive to increase profits deprioritizes everything else.