Non-profit: Inmate murder rate 4x higher in private prisons
Shannon Young said she worries every morning that she will get a phone call saying her husband has been murdered in prison.
“My daily fear is that he is going to die,” she said.
“He was stabbed two months ago,” Young said.
Young’s husband is incarcerated at South Central Correctional Facility in Clifton, Tn, a prison operated by CoreCivic, a for-profit company based in Nashville. CoreCivic was previously known as CCA, Corrections Corporation of America.
Alex Friedmann of the prison watchdog group Human Rights Defense Center said in the last five years, two inmates have been murdered at South Central.
During a five-year period, he said, ten inmates have been killed in CoreCivic prisons. In comparison, during the same five years, he said, five inmates – half as many - were murdered at state-run prisons.
"It is an inexcusable number," Friedmann said.
Adjusted for population counts, Friedmann said the homicide rate at CoreCivic facilities is four times higher than the rate for TDOC prisons.
"These people have not been sentenced to death. They are not there to be murdered or abused, and when those kinds of things happen, the failure should be properly put on the people operating the prison," Friedmann said.
The family of Dameion Nolan knows the heartache of having loved one killed in prison.
Nolan's aggravated robbery conviction sent him to prison as a teen.
"They were kids at the time, 15 years old," said Kayla Cherry, Nolan’s aunt.
"He grew up in prison."
Nolan died in prison at age 29. Cherry, his aunt, said he was stabbed to death May 3rd in his cell by other inmates.
"I think about it daily. And it hurts,” she said.
Nolan was at Whiteville Correctional Center, a private prison run by CoreCivic.
"We have to stop these murders, Cherry said.
CoreCivic spokesperson Amanda Gilchrist said in an email to New 4 that Friedmann’s portrayal of the information is “false and misleading”.
“First, a true apples-to-apples comparison would compare facilities by charge data. For example, a facility that holds a higher concentration of inmates convicted of murder or other violent crimes — as is the case with CoreCivic’s Tennessee facilities — would be expected to have a higher homicide rate than those housing non-violent offenders,” Gilchrist wrote.
"Nearly the entirety of the population that CoreCivic holds is medium-security custody and above (i.e., populations with a higher propensity toward violent incidents). However, a substantial portion of TDOC’s sites hold minimum-security, non-violent offenders."
Core Civic has been under the microscope at the state legislature. In 2017 and 2018, the state investigated high staff turnover, poor communications, prison rapes, suicides and gang violence at CoreCivic prisons. TDOC stepped up its oversight.
Friedmann said it’s not enough.
"The public should be concerned because the contractor we’re using it failing its responsibilities," Friedmann said.
"We are not getting the services we are paying for. This is taxpayer money that is being spent to hire CoreCivic to run these prisons. And they are not doing a great job," Friedmann said.
Kayla Cherry said she wants answers from CoreCivic and from the state: who will be held accountable for her nephew's death?
"I want justice," Cherry said.
Core Civic isn't commenting on Nolan’s death.
“Due to an active and ongoing investigation by local authorities and to preserve the integrity of their investigative work, it would not be appropriate for CoreCivic to comment on the specifics of Mr. Nolan's death at this time,” Gilchrist wrote.
Neysa Taylor, a spokesperson for The Tennessee Department of Corrections, confirmed to News 4 that TDOC in investigating.
“Regarding the death of Dameion Nolan, TDOC’s Office of Investigation and Compliance along with local law enforcement are currently conducting an investigation into his death. Since this is an ongoing investigation, it is not appropriate for the department to comment on the specifics of this case. However, TDOC remains fully committed to the safety and security of each offender and holds departmental partners to that same high standard. In addition, the department works diligently with local law enforcement to investigate and where appropriate, prosecute those involved in any act of violence,” Taylor wrote.