The rollout of Tennessee’s newest private prison, the largest prison in the state, has not gone well, acknowledges CoreCivic CEO Damon Hininger, reports The Tennessean. “We’ve got work to do, clearly we’ve got work to do,” he said. His company recently changed its name from Corrections Corporation of America. “It’s a very frequent occurrence when you’re activating a facility, especially in a jurisdiction that maybe doesn’t have a similar operation — public or private — and with that you’ve got workforce that is brand new to corrections, you’re going to have some inconsistencies in the operations.” In the year since it has opened, the Trousdale Turner Correctional Center has been marred by safety and staffing concerns. Family of inmates and officers say the facility has not done enough to ensure security. Officers say they’re not getting paid enough to work in such conditions, leading to a consistent churn in the workforce.
All of those issues boiled over in May, when the Tennessee Department of Correction told the facility to stop accepting new inmates. State Correctional Administrator Tony Howerton outlined a litany of “serious issues” with leadership, along with concerns about the haphazard use of solitary confinement, inadequate staffing, and allegations of excessive force. Company spokesman Steve Owen said “growing pains” and “hiccups” are common when a private prison opens. In letters, emails and conversations, families of inmates and officers characterized the problems at the remote facility very differently. James Kelley worked as a teacher there for about 6 months. Kelley, 45, came after 21 years in the military, including service in Desert Storm. “I felt like I was in more danger when I was in the prison,” he said. “In a military environment, where I go out there and we’re professionals, I have control over the battlefield aspects, I have control over the command aspects … in the prison, it’s completely opposite. There’s no control and there’s no identifying any immediate threats.”