Nashville’s Metro Council is renewing a push to end the city’s contract with private prison operator CoreCivic, and this time they have the support of the county sheriff, who says he’s found a way to take over operations of the detention facility in South Nashville.
What’s changed since January is a crucial cost estimate. An earlier study said Metro would be on the hook for $35 million per year. That finding was essentially a nonstarter for many officials, especially as the city has scrambled to balance its budget.
But in a letter to Councilmember Freddie O’Connell, Davidson County Sheriff Daron Hall now says the budget impact would be “minimal.”
That’s thanks to a negotiation with the Tennessee Department of Corrections, which reimburses jail operators on a per-inmate basis.
In the case of the Metro Detention Facility, the inmates have been sentenced by the state to terms of up to 6 years. But instead of staying in a state-run prison, a contract tasks Metro with housing them, and Metro in turn contracts with CoreCivic to manage daily operations.
The sheriff’s office has been eligible for a flat rate of $37 per day per inmate, while CoreCivic has negotiated a rate closer to $60 depending on the inmate’s gender.
Hall indicates the reimbursement rate would change in Metro’s favor, although details aren’t immediately available. In a statement, he said one possibility is that the sheriff’s office would take over in 2 years and that there would be a $5 million “start-up” cost for the transition.
“It’s important to point out this change would be a philosophical one, not performance based. We have monitored this contract for more than 25 years and CoreCivic has consistently met contractual requirements,” Hall said.
Members of the Metro Council announced Thursday that they’ll pick back up a proposal to end the CoreCivic contract. They had postponed action after discussion in January to allow for more study. At one press briefing on the proposal, at least 18 councilmembers stood alongside members of the local anti-CoreCivic coalition “Rotten To The Core.”
O’Connell and other opponents of CoreCivic held a press conference Thursday at the Metro Courthouse to return to the issue.
“We have seen mass incarceration be derived from systemic sources,” he said. “All of these things add up to a chain where young people start a process through the criminal legal system, and then somebody was waiting over here who is literally trying to profit off of their incarceration.”
CoreCivic has managed the Metro Detention Facility for 27 years and has defended its operations and cost effectiveness for taxpayers. Councilmembers say 875 inmates are at the facility.
The company quickly pushed back with force, calling councilmembers “dishonest.”
“Once again, it appears that some members of the Metro Nashville council are pushing an agenda that’s free of facts and ideologically driven,” wrote CoreCivic Director of Public Affairs Amanda Gilchrist.
She said the proposed change would cost Metro taxpayers and jeopardize an existing re-entry program for those leaving custody.
This story was updated Thursday afternoon to include statements from Hall and CoreCivic.