A recent break-in at Nashville’s newly constructed Downtown Detention Center could delay the opening planned for this month.
Criminal justice reform advocate Alex Friedmann was released on bond Sunday. He faces multiple burglary-related charges. The Davidson County Sheriff’s Office alleges he posed as a construction worker, made diagrams of the jail and stole keys that can open about 100 of its doors.
Sheriff Daron Hall tells WPLN News he can’t understand why someone dedicated to the safety of people behind bars would compromise the jail’s security.
“There is no doubt what he was doing was criminal. And there’s no doubt what he was doing this time was not to improve corrections or corrections systems,” Hall says. “Unfortunately — but more importantly, [it] was putting our staff and our community and everyone at risk.”
Friedmann has been a vocal proponent for changes to the criminal justice system since serving 10 years in Tennessee prisons, including six in private facilities, according to a biography on his employer’s website. He’s criticized Brentwood-based private corrections company CoreCivic, claiming in a recent report that their facilities are responsible for twice as many inmate homicides as state-run prisons. CoreCivic disputes this claim.
As associate director of the Human Rights Defense Center and managing editor of Prison Legal News, Friedmann has voiced his proposals to a national audience. According to his CV, Friedmann has testified before the U.S. House Judiciary Committee and both the Tennessee and Pennsylvania state legislatures.
As criminal justice reform efforts ramp up in Tennessee, Hall questions what impact the arrest of such a high-profile leader could have.
“He has stained that effort,” Hall says. “For a person, especially a person who’s an ex-offender who had what we believe to have developed some trust and respect, if you will, around this community and others … I’m so disappointed and disturbed.”
Hall says he would have given Friedmann a tour of the facility himself, if he’d asked.
“But he wasn’t there to tour the building. He was there to disguise what he was there for,” Hall says. “There’s a lot of pieces to this story that make it clear what his intentions were.”
Hall says the case now goes to the district attorney’s office for further investigation.
The new 762-bed jail is a maximum-security facility, which Hall says will house defendants facing the most serious charges. The sheriff now expects the facility to open late next month, once the locks are replaced.
Friedmann declined to comment for this story, at the advice of his attorney. His supervisor at the Human Rights Defense Center said Friedmann deserves due process and that the organization plans to do its own internal review of the incident.
Samantha Max is a Report for America corps member.