State legislators granted the Tennessee Department of Correction a one year extension to the organization to grant time for two CoreCivic facilities to fix problems found by a state comptroller audit.
The private prison contractor had staffing issues at both Whiteville Correctional Facility in Hardeman County and Trousdale Turner Correctional Center in Trousdale County. Trousdale also had missing data across half of the days of the multi-month audit. Staff reports were unavailable, showing which positions were staffed during the day and the reports that were available showed "critical posts" were left vacant during the day. Also, sometimes staff worked 16 hour shifts.
The legislative Sunset hearing was first held in mid-November, but was extended to December to allow TDOC and CoreCivic some time to make changes at the two facilities. Tuesday, TDOC Commissioner Tony Parker met with the legislators again to discuss the future of CoreCivic.
"We know what the problem is," said State Representative Bo Mitchell. "We've known what the problem was since the 90s. [CoreCivic] continually does the same things over and over and over again with no repercussions, no liquidated damages. When you have a billion dollars worth of contracts, but you're fined $43,000, that's just the cost of doing business. They don't even think about it."
Legislators were again annoyed with the private prison contractor, despite efforts by Trousdale Warden Russell Washburn to meet requirements of the state contract. Washburn said they've raised the starting pay of correctional officers to the highest of any facility in the state, but hiring new staff has been difficult because Trousdale County has an unemployment rate of just 3 percent.
The legislators at the hearing voted unanimously to approve TDOC to operate for just one year. This starts the state comptroller's audit of CoreCivic facilities immediately. State lawmakers will meet with CoreCivic again in March.