VOL. 119 | NO. 95 | Thursday, June 2, 2005
Shelby County Commission to decide soon on where to privatize prison
County Looks at Jail Privatization Offers
Proposals include new construction, savings incentives
The Daily News
Two private prison companies are ramping up their efforts to
secure a contract with Shelby County government to manage the Shelby County
Correction Center and Downtown jail.
Florida-based The GEO Group Inc., formerly Wackenhut Corrections Corp., has proposed building and
operating a new jail and a corrections complex to replace the penal farm on
Mullins Station Rd. Nashville-based Corrections Corp. of America has made a
similar proposal, which calls for building a consolidated jail and corrections
Both groups are promising Shelby County millions of dollars
New construction. Ken Bouldin, executive vice president and chief development
officer of CCA, came to town in late May to lobby County Commission members on
behalf of the company. He outlined his groups offer, which calls for spending
more than $200 million to build a new 3,600-bed prison. As an added incentive,
he said CCA is offering $30 million up front, once a contract is signed.
Basically, what we submitted was the following, Bouldin said. We said, look, our analysis is the sheriff
has probably done as good a job as he can do with the limitations that he has.
And the limitations would be the physical design of the facility and the fact
that hes dealing with a public employee union.
So in essence, he may have done all he can do without
having a new facility and a new collective bargaining agreement of some type.
Public relations. CCA has
organized a major public relations effort to dispel misinformation about the
groups plan. Bouldin said CCA hired former local
jailer Joe Ponte to give the companys proposal a local perspective. And CCA
board member Thurgood Marshall Jr., son of the
well-known Supreme Court justice, met with community leaders in early March.
Bouldin, who was once an IBM
salesman in Memphis with CCA president John Ferguson, spoke to County Commission
members last week during breaks in budget hearings. He said the committee
studying CCAs and GEOs
proposals was supposed to report to the full commission by May 1, but that
hasnt happened yet. He said a decision is expected soon.
They seem to be very close to having something to give to
commissioners, though, Bouldin said. One of the
things that makes me believe they arent quite finished is my staff has
informed me as late as a few minutes ago that they continue to ask certain
The process began in March, when the Shelby County
Commission began vetting proposals to find some relief from the countys heavy
debt load. The county is spending about 26 percent of its budget on criminal
justice, which includes feeding and sheltering about 5,000 inmates in Memphis.
But the proposals have attracted nationwide attention,
because if either is accepted, prison industry officials believe it would make
Memphis home to the largest private prison system in the country.
Then and now. Thats a major
sticking point for private prison opponents like Jeff Woodard, a corrections
officer whos worked 16 years at the penal farm.
This is disaster waiting to happen, Woodard said.
He put it this way: In 1990, the County Correction Center
was one of the top five in the country in terms of self-sufficiency. Woodard
said it cost about $1.80 a day to house each inmate, compared to about $10.65 a
day 15 years later.
Corrections officers like myself,
we saw this coming down the pike, Woodard said. A group of us I guess you
could say led by myself held rallies, pickets, put ads on the radio, whatever
we had to do.
In addition, Woodard has publicly accused County Commission
member Bruce Thompson of neglecting to reveal his relationship with Nathan
Green, one of several local lobbyists for CCA across the country.
Green was paid $12,000 during Thompsons 2002 campaign,
according to financial records obtained by Woodard. Thompson was the driving
force behind an invitation to private prison companies to submit proposals to
According to the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance,
Nathan Green is also registered as a lobbyist for Flinn
Broadcasting Corporation, the media company owned by County Commission member
George Flinn Jr.
Decision soon? In the
meantime, Bouldin said hes spoken with commission
members who expect the process to be discussed over the next couple of weeks.
Though it would be about two years before CCAs
proposed jail would be completed, Bouldin said CCAs offer of $30 million up front would provide immediate
And CCA, which already manages four facilities in West
Tennessee alone, estimates that construction work for the new correctional
center would provide 400 to 500 jobs over a 22-month period.
What we said is that we would need the land to put this
facility on, and since were going to own the bricks and mortar, we need a
long-term, 50-year land lease, Bouldin said. So we
offered to pay the county $30 million up front in exchange for the lease, and
that would give them an immediate revenue source.
Then, through attrition and retirements, we think we can
get to the staff level we need to maintain the savings were going to guarantee
to the county. So weve thrown an olive branch out there that says, Why would you
want to fight us? We are rolling over, and were going to give you everything
you can get.
Check out details on The GEO Groups
privatization offer next week in part two of The Daily News series Private