Councilwoman Emily Benedict addresses a crowd inside City Hall Tuesday, November 19. She called for an end to Metro’s five-year contract with CoreCivic and said she will introduce a bill in December to prohibit it from being renewed.

By Peter White

NASHVILLE, TN — Fifteen groups want Metro to drop its contract with CoreCivic, the private prison corporation that has run the Metro-Davidson County Detention Facility since 1992.

They have found a champion in newly-elected District 7 Councilwoman Emily Benedict, who will introduce a bill to sever Metro’s ties to CoreCivic permanently. 

She said that CoreCivic does not treat its inmates humanely and it’s time to move forward in a way that serves the public better. Metro’s five-year contract with CoreCivic is up at the end of January.

“We will be able to work towards beginning to serve our jails with our own employees and no longer use a private for-profit organization as we know are interested in their bottom line,” she said.

Benedict said staffing the jails with Metro employees would cost an average Nashville resident fourteen cents a day or $52/yr. It would save the State of Tennessee $15 million a year or $60 million over five years

“To me this is a no brainer. I’m thrilled to have the support of so many colleagues and I look forward to filing this legislation on Dec 2,” Benedict said.

Meanwhile in California, CoreCivic is getting the bum’s rush. Newly elected Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill last month banning private prisons and immigration facilities. The bill prohibits the Department of Corrections from contracting with private prison companies or renewing current contracts. It is the first such statewide ban in the U.S.

The bill’s passage was a victory for prison reform and immigrant rights activists who protested for months. It was also a blow to ICE which jails 3,700 migrants in CA’s four privately run detention centers. About 70% of detained immigrants and 8.5% of all inmates are held in private prisons. They profit by delaying or refusing medical care, have higher levels of violence including sexual assaults, are often poorly staffed, and overuse solitary confinement. 

GEO and CoreCivic, the two biggest private prison operators in the U.S., house about three quarters of all immigrant detainees. Both companies have big contracts with government agencies like ICE. But JPMorgan announced in March it would no longer do business with them. Other banks like Bank of America, Fifth Third Bank, Suntrust, and Wells Fargo have followed suit. In the past, eight major banks have loaned GEO and CoreCIvic about $2.4 billion or 87% of their financing but will no longer do so.

GEO and CoreCivic are not calling it quits. They still have access to capital from regional banks, hedge funds, and plenty of private investors. The two companies have spent $25 million in lobbying efforts and made $10 million in campaign contributions.

“When you think about for–profit prisons profiting off bodies it’s hauntingly reminiscent of slavery and its a continuation that we would profit in human misery.  So we want Core Civic to no longer have the contract. We want it to be eliminated and that no for-profit prison should be in the business of housing human beings,” said Keith Caldwell, President of Nashville’s NAACP chapter.

Cyrus Wilson spent a year in Trousdale State Prison. It is crowded, understaffed, and considered the worst prison in Tennessee. CoreCivic holds about one third of Tennessee’s 30,000 inmates in its four private prisons.

“Overall it was just a horrible place,” Wilson told the Tribune. He said that Trousdale did not have enough employees and he felt like his life was always in jeopardy there.

“They take pride in not having to adhere to the policies and rules and regulations of of the state. They flaunt it. They make sure that you know that they’re not the state. ‘We’re the exception to the rule.’ They know and they make sure you know. They are not going to be held to the same standard,” Wilson said.