CoreCivic is pulling out of its contract to run the Metro Detention Facility this fall.
The announcement comes days after Councilmembers Freddie O’Connell and Emily Benedict introduced a resolution to end Nashville’s relationship with the Brentwood-based private corrections company. CoreCivic has managed the facility for nearly three decades.
“It appears that you and some members of the Metro Nashville Council are pushing an agenda that’s void of facts, ideologically driven and completely ignores CoreCivic’s decades long history of exceptional performance,” CoreCivic CEO Damon Hininger wrote in a searing letter addressed to Sheriff Daron Hall, who provided a cost analysis in support of the move.
Hininger said CoreCivic would not “be used as a punching bag by political opponents” and that the company will provide a 90-day transition plan, which will expire on Oct. 4, several weeks after its current contract is set to expire.
Metro officials had hoped to keep CoreCivic on as the Metro Detention Facility’s operator for two more years, while it worked out a transition.
CoreCivic is one of the two largest private prison operators in the country and has repeatedly been accused of failing to protect inmates from harm. The company was fined more than $2 million after a state audit revealed dire staffing shortages at the Trousdale Turner Correctional Center, Tennessee’s largest and newest prison, which the company has run since 2016.
Criminal justice reform advocates have urged the city to end its relationship with the private company for years. Those demands have been at odds with the potential cost. But in an email to O’Connell last week, Hall said he’d negotiated a plan that would allow the his office to run the facility with “minimal” impact to Metro budget, besides a $5 million start-up cost. Earlier estimates had put the price tag at about $35 million a year.
But Hininger said such a move would cost taxpayers millions of dollars and jeopardize reentry programming offered at the facility. He also refuted claims that the company puts profits ahead of people, saying that it’s actually lost money operating the detention center since 2018.
“Despite these losses, we continued to honor our contractual commitment,” he wrote. “During this same period, we also provided well-deserved wage increases to all of our corrections professionals, not guards as they were derogatorily referred to by Councilmember Benedict.”
But Benedict and O’Connell say the historical moment shows the importance of shifting management to the sheriff’s office.
“If it was not clear before the current social justice reform movement, our criminal legal system needs its own reform,” the two council members wrote in a statement last week. “We must remove this profiteer and put Nashville’s tax dollars to better use.”
Samantha Max is a Report for America corps member.