Stop Ham. Co. Jail Expansion / Privatization
Many will take issue with the County’s plan primarily for the expanded reach of the private prison industry, but we believe this to be a narrow focus as the private prison industry, while growing, accounts for roughly 8% of the national prison population. We can not end mass-incarceration without dealing with its roots. We must dismantle the overarching system of increasing criminalization, over-policing and surveillance, displacement, and resource extraction from Black and working class communities which drives this system.
While community members and officials have correctly criticized the deteriorating physical condition of the downtown jail for over a decade, we know that the cracked and molding walls of the cage are not the root cause of routine human rights violations. The chronic overcrowding of these facilities, the neglect and lack of adequate physical and mental health care, and the prevalence of violence by police, jailers, and security are all the result of public policy.
County Commissioner Warren Mackey is on record stating that “If I ran the jail, you wouldn’t want to come. You wouldn’t get a hot meal. It would be overcrowded. It would be unsafe.” This portrays the jail’s current conditions and the institutional disregard for people’s civil and human rights.
Our area’s unequal development and long, unique history with CCA increases the strategic importance of this fight. According to the Sentencing Project, “The modern private prison business first emerged… in 1984 when the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) was awarded a contract to take over a facility in Hamilton County, Tennessee. This marked the first time that any government in the country had contracted out the complete operation of a jail to a private operator.”
CCA is known for spending massive amounts of money on lobbying and political contributions to ensure legislation that keeps their beds filled. Just in the last 5 years alone, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam, former Chattanooga mayor and current U.S. Senator Bob Corker, U.S. House Representative Scott Desjarlais, State legislators Lamar Alexander, Bo Watson, Gerald McCormick, Chuck Fleischmann, and County Mayor Coppinger himself have all received campaign contributions from CCA.
This important fight stands at the intersection of Chattanooga’s crises and its image. More jail capacity is needed to continue the war of displacement on Black and working class communities. The increasing criminalization and incarceration has already overloaded our jails and wasted hundreds of millions of dollars which could’ve been allocated to community-based solutions to crime and violence with far better records of success than policing- education, youth and family development, mental health, economic development without displacement, etc.