Facts, not politics, should guide Nashville’s quest to take over CoreCivic’s contract

August 17, 2020

Facts, not politics, should guide Nashville’s quest to take over CoreCivic’s contract
Nashville-Davidson County Government’s drive to end CoreCivic’s contract is a political statement and does not address services private contractors provide inmates and prisoners. 

By Alexandra Wilkes
The Tennessean
August 17, 2020

The public should expect that facts guide the policy making in Nashville and other major cities. Unfortunately, there’s a troubling recent trend of public officials putting politics above the interests of taxpayers and the needs of incarcerated men and women as they attack public-private partnerships in corrections.

Last year, the City Council in Denver, Colorado voted to end contracts with private sector operators of the city’s halfway houses with no backup plan, threatening to send hundreds of residents back into jail.

As Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, a Democrat, stated at the time, “Some people decided to play politics with the lives of these 500 individuals as well as almost 200 employees to make a political statement.”

That’s roughly what’s happening today in Nashville as two ideologically driven Metro Council members lead a government take-over of the Metro-Davidson County Detention Facility (MDF). They’ve grabbed the wheel and have steered Nashville down an uncertain and very expensive road.

Sheriff Hall said change ‘would be philosophical’

The MDF, operated by Tennessee-based contractor CoreCivic, is a model of success that shows how public-private partnerships can help incarcerated men and women become productive members of society upon release, while at the same time being efficient stewards of taxpayer dollars.

Even Davidson County Sheriff Daron Hall recently stated that 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.”

MDF houses state-sentenced felons and the cost is 100% funded by the State of Tennessee via a third-party contract with Metro Government. Pushing out CoreCivic to score political points will directly cause the Davidson County Sheriff (DCSO) to take over the prison and put Metro taxpayers on the hook for the difference in what the state pays and the Sheriff’s costs of service – an increase DCSO says could run as high as $17 million a year.

While it’s disastrous financial policy for city taxpayers, the plan is also bad news for the incarcerated men and women at MDF.

MDF inmates serve sentences that run from one to six years, which means that every individual is destined to return to the community in short order. Under CoreCivic, a robust slate of reentry programs has been built to prepare these people to be successful when they leave and to reduce recidivism.

In just the past five years, MDF inmates have earned 205 GEDs and 389 industry recognized certificates. Evidence-based education services, job skills, and counseling are a part of daily life at MDF. These include faith-based counseling, drug and alcohol abuse counseling, therapy with animals, adult education, computer programming, cosmetology and other job training.

Private sector contractors are national leaders in providing innovative re-entry programming. CoreCivic is recognized nationally for high-performing training and support programs that should be the foundation of a forward-thinking criminal justice system.

Nashville taxpayers will pay more for services

In Nashville, oddly, some of the leaders want it dismantled to satisfy the small crowd of anti-privatization advocates whose opposition is based solely on a political agenda and not on facts.

Can DCSO replicate the volume and quality of what’s available to MDF inmates? That’s unknown, because DCSO has no experience operating a prison.

Clearer, however, is the staggering new cost that will hit Nashville taxpayers when DCSO takes over. Last year DCSO released a study on the cost to taxpayers if it assumed operation of MDF and said transition would cause “significant financial burden to the Metro government” which Metro taxpayers “are not currently carrying today.”

In that study, Metro taxpayers would spend an additional $17 million each year on net over the state’s costs of services.

Think about it. That’s $17 million a year – every year – in your local tax dollars to pay for a state government responsibility that will not be available for investments in schools, roads, or other local priorities.

That’s the sort of policy making car wreck that occurs when elected leaders prioritize political ideology over facts.

Alexandra Wilkes is national spokeswoman for the Day 1 Alliance, a trade association representing private sector contractors helping address corrections and detention challenges in the United States.


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