Tennessee taxpayers paid nearly a half-million dollars over the past two years for empty beds at a Nashville private prison, reports The Tennessean. A 2009 government contract with Corrections Corporation of America guarantees that the private prison company will be paid for 90-percent capacity in the women's section of its Metro Detention Facility. Records show that the private-run prison has rarely been that full, putting taxpayers on the hook for $487,917.27 worth of empty beds since 2011.
Such quota systems are commonplace across the nation but prompt criticism that the arrangements are better for private corporations than taxpayers. In The Public Interest, a Washington, D.C.-based research center critical of government privatization, calls prvate prisons' inmate quotas a “low-crime tax” that penalizes taxpayers for having fewer felons. “We've made their returns more important than our schools, our prisons, our roads, our parks, everything we desperately need. That should never happen,” said the center’s Donald Cohen. “That $500,000 … would absolutely do good things in communities in Tennessee.” Sheriff Daron Hall said the contract was awarded in a competitive bidding process and defended it as the best deal possible at the time.