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Progress or Profit (Shelby County Jail Privatization Report), TN DOC, 2006

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Positive Alternatives to Privatization and Incarceration in Shelby County

Progress or Profit?
Dana Kaplan, Center for Constitutional Rights
Bob Libal, Grassroots Leadership

A 2006 Joint Report Issued By:

Coalition Against Private Prisons (CAPP)
Memphis, Tennessee


Grassroots Leadership
Charlotte, North Carolina


Table of Contents
Executive Summary ...................................................................................................................................... 3
I. Introduction ............................................................................................................................................. 5
II. Jail and Prison Privatization: Cost Savings or Potential Nightmares? .................................... 6
A. Problems in Privatization
B. Case Study in Private Correctional Services: Appleton, Minnesota
C. Cost Savings: Overstated or Nonexistent
III. Community Response to Privatization .............................................................................................. 9
A. Faith Groups Call for Abolition of Private Prisons
B. Shelby County Community Concerns
IV. Solutions to Jail and Prison Overcrowding and Rising Budgets:
A National Perspective .............................................................................................................. 11
A. Causes of Increased Jail Populations
B. Solutions to Overcrowding
C. Case Study in Reform: New York State
V. Conclusion: Where Do We Go From Here? ................................................................................. 15
Resources for Further Study .................................................................................................................... 17
Endnotes ....................................................................................................................................................... 18


Positive Alternatives to Privatization and Incarceration in Shelby County

Executive Summary
As Shelby County, Tennessee faces concerns about jail overcrowding and the rising costs of
incarceration, so do many other communities. Across the country, cash-strapped counties
and states are looking for ways to reduce their expanding criminal justice budgets. Lured by
the promises of private prison corporations, some of these communities, like Shelby County,
have even begun to consider the prospect of privatizing their jails, including medical and food
services, in the hope that these corporations could operate larger jails or provide services at
less cost. However, the experience of other counties has demonstrated that these promises
are overstated or false. Again and again, private jails and prisons have resulted in more
headache than relief to the communities that house them, as well as to those who live and
work within.
Today, communities and decision makers must recognize that the public and taxpayer
investment in publicly run and publicly accountable facilities has yielded better results than the
for-profit jails run by private prison corporations. While our public jails and prisons have
faced budgetary pressures, and continue to need reform, we cannot afford to divest
ourselves of the government role in providing highly trained public employees, with higher
standards for community accountability than the private for-profit corporations that cater to
the needs of highly paid executives and major stockholders. To do so is financially, civically,
and morally irresponsible and dangerous.
This report summarizes the experiences of prison and jail privatization in communities similar
to Shelby County, and provides suggestions for more effective and cost efficient ways of
addressing overcrowding and sentencing.
Privatization advocates claim that prisons and jails should be privatized in order to save
money. However, the supposed ability of private prison corporations to provide cost savings
to city, county or state corrections departments has proven an illusion. Instead, successful
cost-savings and crime reduction have been consistently achieved through alternative
sentencing programs and court processing efficiency measures. These efforts can be
implemented at a fraction of the cost and risk of privatization, and can help achieve a more
humane and just criminal justice system that still protects public safety.
Concerned local officials and citizens can look to programs other counties and states have
implemented, both for examples of policies that have worked and for some best and worst
case scenarios around new jail construction. As a diverse range of local stakeholders come
together to determine what the best solutions are for Shelby County, they can certainly be
well informed by the steps taken by other counties that are grappling with similar pressures of

growing jail populations and straining budgets. This report endorses the following
recommendations, which would help save Shelby County from great expense, risk to the
community, and the lack of oversight inherent in jail and prison privatization:
• Immediately halt any consideration of privatizing the Shelby County Jail or its medical
services, or the Shelby County Corrections Center.
• Convene a Coordinating Council whose mandate is to examine overcrowding in the
local jail and develop recommendations to address it.
• Transfer people convicted of felony offenses from the Shelby County Jail to state
• Implement alternative sentencing for people convicted of misdemeanor offenses.
• Develop efficiency measures to move people through the system faster pre-conviction.


Positive Alternatives to Privatization and Incarceration in Shelby County

“Even if for-profit private prisons could achieve significant cost savings to the taxpayer,
which in fact they have not been able to do, they would still be morally unacceptable.
Private prisons are not an economic but a deep religious and ethical issue, a cornerstone of
our collective work to put justice back into the so-called “criminal justice system.”
“Resolution Calling for the Abolition of For-Profit Private
Prisons,” 2002 General Assembly, Presbyterian Church USA1
We call upon government to redirect the vast amount of public resources away from
building more and more prisons and toward better and more effective programs aimed at
crime prevention, rehabilitation, education efforts, substance abuse treatment, and
programs of probation, parole, and reintegration. Renewed emphasis should be placed on
parole and probation systems…Freeing up prison construction money to bolster these
systems should be a top priority.
“Responsibility, Rehabilitation, and Restoration: A Catholic
Perspective on Criminal Justice: A Statement of the Catholic
Bishops of the United States,” November 15, 20002

I. Introduction
Across the country, cash-strapped states and counties — like Tennessee and Shelby County — are
looking for ways to reduce their burgeoning criminal justice budgets. Spending on corrections is
eating up increasing portions of the local, state and national budgetary pie, often without
demonstrating increased rehabilitation or job training and re-entry success for those incarcerated.
Whereas in 1985 the United States was spending $13 billion on corrections, five years later the figure
had risen to $24 billion, and by 2001 it had gone up to $57 billion – a growth of over 400%.3
The increasing numbers of people housed in county jail facilities has placed a particularly heavy
burden on county budgets, with the number rising from 256,615 people held in local jails in mid-year
1985 to close to three times that at 713,990 in mid-year 2004, and the cost of housing them rising
right alongside.4 With local elected officials throughout the country feeling the pressure to reduce
swelling budgets, address overcrowding in local facilities, and ensure real public safety for both their
communities and the people living and working within these jails, communities are looking for
immediate solutions.
Lured by the promises of private prison corporations, some of these counties and states have begun to
consider the prospect of privatizing their jails, with the hope that these corporations could operate
larger jails at smaller costs. However, the experience of communities that have tried this option has
demonstrated that these promises are false. Again and again, private jails and prisons have resulted in
more headache than relief to the communities that house them, as well as those who live and work
In the several decades that local officials have been grappling with the tension between swelling jail
populations and tight budgets, the best solution to cost overruns has not been building more jail space
or privatization, but decreasing the number of people housed in local facilities. The most effective

approach has been prioritizing the types of treatment programs and community and faith based
alternatives that enable people to move permanently out of contact with the system and save taxpayer
dollars, rather than relying on systems of punishment that place offenders in an endless cycle of

II. Jail and Prison Privatization: Cost Savings or Potential Nightmares?
Privatized jails and prisons came to prominence in the early 1980s. Newly formed private prison
corporations promised state and federal systems that privatization would provide significant costsavings. Companies like Corrections Corporation of America and Wackenhut Corrections (later
renamed The GEO Group) also argued that privatization would improve the quality of correctional
facilities by increasing competition among firms vying for contracts.
Since its small beginnings in the early 1980s, the private prison industry has grown dramatically in
size. By the end of 2004, there were over 120,000 prisoners in privatized prisons, jails, and detention
facilities in the United States alone.5
While public prisons and jails have faced budgetary pressures, and continue to need reform, we cannot
afford to divest ourselves of the government role in providing highly trained public employees, with
higher standards for community accountability than private for-profit corporations that cater to the
needs of highly paid executives and major stockholders. To do so would be financially, civically, and
morally irresponsible and dangerous.
A. Problems With Privatization
The experience with privatization of prisons, jails, and detention facilities has been both negative and
disturbing. Voluminous anecdotal and statistical evidence suggests that private prisons correlate with
decreased security, insufficient staff training and equipment, inadequate protection of prisoners’
human rights, degrading prison conditions, and poor employment standards.
In Tennessee, privatized jail facilities have experienced a number of attention-grabbing instances of
mismanagement and worse. Examples include:
¾ Hardeman County Correctional Center (Whiteville) – In August 2004, more than 70
public law enforcement officers were brought in to search for a convicted murderer and rapist
who escaped from this CCA-operated prison.6
Also in 2004, a former prisoner sued the facility and CCA for $1 million claiming he
contracted tuberculosis and that the facility’s operator did not take proper precautions to
prevent the spread of the airborne disease. Eight cases of TB at the facility prompted the
Department of Health to investigate the prison to attempt to stop the disease from spreading to
the outside community.7
¾ Metro Davidson County Detention Facility (Nashville) – Estelle Richardson, a mother of
two who was serving time for a probation violation, was found dead in her cell in June 2004.
The death was ruled a homicide by a Metro medical examiner. The U.S. Department of Justice’s
civil rights division, the Metro Nashville police and the District Attorney’s office are all
continuing to investigate the case.8 Four CCA guards have been indicted on reckless homicide

Positive Alternatives to Privatization and Incarceration in Shelby County

charges in Richardson’s death. In October of 2005, Richardson’s family filed suit against CCA
and the facility for $160 million.9
In a separate case, Meredith Manning, another former prisoner at Metro Davidson, has sued
CCA for $250 million for the wrongful death of her child. Manning, who is 23 and was a pretrial detainee, claims that she was left bleeding in a solitary room for three days while crying
for help. Her son died three hours after being born.10
Negative stories about jail and prison privatization have also appeared in headlines across the country.
Some of these stories include:
¾ Brazoria County Detention Center (Angleton, Texas) – Guards at a private jail run by
Capitol Correctional Resources, Inc. made a training video of themselves beating, stungunning, and unleashing dogs on naked prisoners from Missouri. The 1997 incident left several
prisoners injured, who were dragged face down back to their cells.11
¾ Tulsa County Jail (Tulsa, Oklahoma) – In 2005, the Tulsa Sheriff’s department took over
operations of the Tulsa County Jail from Corrections Corporation of America after
determining that the county could run the facility more efficiently.12
¾ Frio County Detention Center (Pearsall, Texas) – In August 2004, five federal prisoners
escaped in broad daylight from a Frio County jail operated by Florida-based private prison
operator Correctional Services Corporation. At least one of the prisoners was identified as a
high-ranking member of the gang Mexican Mafia. The escape was the fifth in the facility’s 15year history.13
¾ Eden Detention Center (Eden, Texas) – Parents of Conrado Mestas filed a wrongful death
suit claiming that Corrections Corporation of America guards mentally abused and withheld
necessary diet from their son.14
These stories are not uncommon in privatized prisons. Reports have backed claims that understaffing
and under-trained guards create dangerous conditions within these facilities.
One such report, Corrections Corporation of America: A Critical Look at Its First Twenty Years,
argues that the largest private prison corporation, CCA, is plagued by administrative failures including:
“Failure to provide adequate medical care to prisons, failure to control violence in
its prisons, substandard conditions that have resulted in prisoner protests and
uprisings, criminal activity on the part of some CCA employees, including the sale
of illegal drugs to prisoners, and escapes, which in the case of at least two facilities
include inadvertent releases of prisoners who were supposed to remain in
Another study, authored by criminologist James Austin, showed that in comparable medium and
minimum security facilities, private prisons had 49% higher rates of prisoner assaults on staff and
65% higher rates of prisoner assaults on other prisoners.16

One reason for such disparities is the high rate of personnel turnover in privatized facilities. Data
reported in The Corrections Yearbook documents that turnover for prison guards was 41% for the
private prison industry in 1998, compared with 15% for correctional officers in publicly run
prisons.17 Turnover actually increased to 52% in private facilities in 2000, compared to 16% in
publicly run prisons.18
B. Case Study in Correctional Privatization: Appleton, Minnesota
The ineffectiveness of private correctional services is documented by criminal justice policy analyst
Judith Greene’s study of CCA’s Prairie Correctional Facility (PCF) in Appleton, Minnesota.19
The study, supported by the University of Minnesota Law School Institute on Criminal Justice,
compared the CCA prison with three comparable medium-security prisons operated by the Minnesota
Department of Corrections (DOC). Greene issued detailed questionnaires to carefully matched
prisoners at the four prisons and used their answers to compare services and programs.
Greene found significant disparities in the answers provided by the DOC prisoners and those held at
the CCA prison. Among other differences noted by the prisoners, DOC prisoners were provided more
education on general health issues (including an educational program on HIV/AIDS), received more
dental care visits per year, and had access to significantly more chemical dependency training (the
CCA facility did not have chemical dependency classes).20
One of the most startling differences between CCA’s Appleton prison and the three state prisons was
in educational attainment and pre-release readiness. DOC prisoners were almost twice as likely as
CCA prisoners to say the education provided by the DOC was preparing them for release. All teachers
of academic classes at the DOC prisons were state certified, compared with half at the CCA prison.
The duration of classes was also much longer at the DOC prisons. The outcome was as to be expected:
the public DOC facilities produced 74 GEDs per 1,000 prisoners, while CCA’s for-profit prison
produced only 55.21
Greene reports that similar discrepancies existed in vocational and pre-release programs. At the DOC
prisons, prisoners took full-day classes licensed by the state’s technical college system, while
prisoners at CCA’s private facility took only three-hour courses that did not provide certificates when
According to Greene,
“Taken together, the findings from the Minnesota study provide strong empirical
evidence supporting the opposite view: that privatization significantly lowers the
level of correctional effectiveness, facility security, and public safety compared to
what is now provided by the public system. The comparative deficiencies at the
CCA prison in Minnesota can be traced to the company’s efforts to control costs,
thereby increasing profits.”22
C. Cost Savings: Overstated or Nonexistent
Privatization advocates claim that prisons and jails should be privatized in order to save money.
However, the supposed ability of private prison corporations to provide cost savings to local or state

Positive Alternatives to Privatization and Incarceration in Shelby County

corrections departments has proven illusory. Studies reaffirm that claims of cost-savings by private
prison corporations are unproven.
The Shelby County Mayor and the Shelby County Sheriff have recently acknowledged that privatization
is neither the only nor the best solution to the county’s jail problems. But until alternatives are
implemented, the county will be faced with the rising costs of expanding incarceration, and the
corporations that stand to profit from privatization will continue to see Shelby County as a place to
make substantial profits.
As Shelby County resident James Harvey says, “There are a lot of benefits to be gained by privatizing
the Shelby County Jail and penal farm, but none of them will be for the County, the employees of the
jail or those incarcerated there, or the taxpayers.” It goes without saying that if privatization takes
place, those who would benefit most are the executives, directors, and major shareholders of the
private prison corporation. Whether some of the Shelby County residents who are advocating
privatization are among these potential major beneficiaries is a question worth asking.
In 1996, the General Accounting Office (GAO) of the Federal Government reviewed multiple state
studies comparing operational costs of private and state-run prisons. Of five state studies, three
showed little difference in costs between private and public prisons while one showed that private
prisons cost more. One state study (Texas) showed substantial cost savings in private facilities, but the
GAO researchers deemed that study “problematic” because the private prisons were compared to
hypothetical public prisons, not real facilities. The GAO concluded that “these studies do not offer
substantial evidence that savings [in private facilities] have occurred.”23
Another study, a 1999 “meta-analysis” of 33 cost effectiveness studies published in Crime and
Delinquency found that private prisons were “no more cost effective than are public prisons.”24
Finally, a report commissioned by the Bureau of Justice Assistance showed that the supposed costsavings of up to 20% often promised by privatization advocates have “simply not materialized.”
Instead, the report concluded that savings, if there were any at all, averaged only around 1%. 25

III. Community Response to Privatization
Across the country, communities have mobilized against the threat of private prisons. In some cases
after contracts have been signed they have been terminated once residents, county officials, and
legislators realized the extent of the program cutbacks, increased costs and risks of privatization.
Before considering privatization in Shelby County, it is prudent to consider the concerns others have
raised when facing the same issues.
A. Faith Groups Call for Abolition of Private Prisons
Communities of faith have been among most vocal critics of for-profit private prisons and jails. Many
denominations have passed resolutions calling for restrictions on or outright abolition of for-profit
private jails, prisons and detention centers.
In November 2000, the 48 Southern Bishops of the Roman Catholic Church issued the second of six
pastoral statements on criminal justice issues, “Wardens from Wall Street: Prison Privatization.” In
this statement, the Bishops question the ability of for-profit, private corporations to effectively

operate prisons. The Bishops’ statement says, “The profit motive may lead to reduced efforts to
change behaviors, treat substance abuse, and offer skills necessary for reintegration into the
community.” The Bishops continue,
“We believe that private prisons confront us with serious moral issues, demanding
a gospel response. To deprive other persons of their freedom, to restrict them
from contact with other human beings, to use force against them up to and including
deadly force, are the most serious of acts. To delegate such acts to institutions
whose success depends on the amount of profit they generate is to invite abuse and
to abdicate our responsibility to care for our sisters and brothers.”26
In 2000, the United Methodist Church adopted a resolution opposing for-profit private prisons. The
statement reads in part, “This industry of warehousing people has presented a temptation to those who
would profit from the punishment of human beings, leading to perhaps the most ominous illustration
of the prison industrial complex at work: the privatization of prison operation and/or ownership.”
The statement concludes:
“Christians, therefore, must have a special concern for those who are captive in any
way, especially for those who are imprisoned, and for the human conditions under
which persons are incarcerated. Individual Christians and churches must also oppose
those policies and practices, which reflect greater allegiance to the profit motive
than to public safety and to restorative justice for offenders, crime victims, and
local communities.
Therefore, The United Methodist Church declares its opposition to the privatization
of prisons and jails and to profit making from the punishment of human beings.”27
In 2002, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) adopted a lengthy resolution calling
for the abolition of for-profit private prisons. The resolution states in part:
“Since the goal of for-profit private prisons is earning a profit for their shareholders,
there is a basic and fundamental conflict with the concept of rehabilitation as the
ultimate goal of the prison system. We believe that this is a glaring and significant
flaw in our justice system and that for-profit private prisons should be abolished.”

According to Father Les Schmidt, the Bishops’ Liaison for the Catholic Committee of the
South, the national faith opposition to jail privatization is more than shared in Memphis.
According to Father Schmidt, “Faith leaders in Memphis have made it clear that choosing to
build a for-profit, private jail is morally unacceptable. Positive alternatives are urgently
needed. We seek positive steps in that direction and expect the suggested cost-saving
alternatives to be given serious consideration by the commissioners and the community.”
Statements by faith leaders in Shelby County reinforce Father Schmidt’s contention. Dr. Peter Gathje,
Professor of Religion and Philosophy at Christian Brothers University, asks, “Will years of county tax
breaks for the big developers and federal budget cuts for the rich now lead our county government to

Positive Alternatives to Privatization and Incarceration in Shelby County

seek financial relief by turning to imprisonment for profit? If so, our government’s moral priorities
invite both the judgment of God and the outrage of those committed to justice.”29 Reverend Rebekah
Jordan, Executive Director of the Mid-South Interfaith Network for Economic Justice, Memphis
raises the issue of, “Do we really want our public safety and the care of incarcerated individuals to be
in the hands of employees paid the lowest wages possible?”30
B. Shelby County Community Concerns
Shelby County residents have been voicing their concerns ever since privatization of the jail was put
on the table as a possible option. Many share the sentiments of Joseph Kyle, Vice President of the
Rainbow Push Coalition. Urging caution with this decision, he stated that, “Government should be in
the business of rehabilitation, and not in the business of profiting off of other peoples’ misery.”
Many feel that the public system can be strengthened simply by taking into account the experience and
suggestions of its own employees, a suggestion strongly endorsed by those who work at the Shelby
County Jail and the Shelby County Corrections Center. Moses Hayes, who is the Corrections Chapter
Chairperson for AFSCME Local 1733, which represents employees at the two facilities, believes that
“The County should allow employees to suggest where operational efficiencies could be found.”
Minus Adams, who manages educational and vocational training for prisoners, says, “I personally don’t
believe that an outside agency can come in and work with these people the way we do.”31
Correctional Officer Jeff Woodard also does not support privatization; he sees it as “a rip-off of the
taxpayers’ dollars. Rob from the poor and give to the rich.” His colleague Warren Cole agrees. “As a
correctional officer, I am on the inside looking out. As a taxpayer, I am on the outside looking in. No
matter how I look at it, privatization is not the way to save this county money.”
Jacob Flowers, Executive Director of the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center, expresses his concerns
about profit driven bottom lines in private prisons: “Right now prison guards and administration are
accountable to our elected officials and the general public. What is scary is that in a private prison the
guards and administration are no longer accountable to us, but rather to their corporate stockholders.
This means that the safety of prison guards, prisoners and the general public is no longer the first
priority — profit is.” 32
Shelby County elected officials are also among those concerned about the negative impact of jail
privatization. County Commissioner Walter Bailey is worried about the larger welfare of the
community, noting that, “When privatization moves in, minorities and women make up the greater
number of kicked-out employees. One can’t imagine the pain, agony and suffering that is inflicted on
their family members.”33

IV. Solutions to Prison and Jail Overcrowding and Rising Budgets:
A National Perspective
As communities look for answers to the problems of overcrowding and alternatives to proposals of
privatization, it is important to assess the causes of increased jail and prison populations and to learn
from the experiences of other cities, counties and states across the country.


A. Causes of Increased Jail Populations
“In 1983, the condition of jail crowding was described as ‘the most pressing problem’
facing criminal justice systems across the nation. Today local government and criminal
justice officials face no less of a struggle dealing with crowded jails than they did in
1985…As in 1985, cities and counties still often respond to jail crowding and resultant
litigation precipitously, without careful study or planning and without the participation
of all justice system agencies. Such approaches generally produce only costly
symptomatic relief, such as building more jail beds, and leave unaddressed the
underlying causes of crowding. Responsible local officials who are considering
community safety and the possibility of litigation, as well as the interests of those living
and working within the jail, are under growing pressure to respond to crowded jail
conditions. In a crisis atmosphere, these concerns are often simply translated into a
need for building larger jails. Construction and operation of local jails are extremely
expensive propositions. Over the years, the view that a jurisdiction can solve its jail
crowding problem through building has proven to be wrong.”
-Alleviating Jail Overcrowding: A Systems Perspective
Bureau of Justice Assistance, October 200034
Rising jail populations are not caused by changes in crime in the local population, but by the
inefficiencies and failed practices of the criminal justice system itself. If over-crowding were actually
driven by increased levels of crime in the community, the demands for jail space would have
decreased during the 1990s, as crime throughout the country was going down.35
Responsible officials must look to determine how they can reduce the number of people in jail at a
given moment by doing an intensive, systems-wide analysis. The questions that local officials need to
ask themselves to determine the real causes of increasing jail populations are: 1) Who is actually in
jail; 2) What length of time they are spending there; and 3) How discretionary decision making by
criminal justice officials impacts the first two factors.
While crime has been going down for decades, jail and prison populations have been on the rise. The
increase is largely due to changing arrest policies at the front end and sentencing policies at the back
end: the war on drugs, mandatory arrest policies for domestic violence offenses and drunk driving, the
deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill and their resultant involvement in the criminal justice system,
“truth in sentencing” laws reducing parole options, “three strikes you’re out” laws, and mandatory
minimum sentencing laws that have all increased the proportion of people in jail pre-trial.36 Although
there is no one reason for why the populations of county and local jails throughout the country are
swelling, these are some of the myriad of factors that play a role.
The first step for any county in developing a solution is to convene a Coordinating Council
whose mandate is to examine overcrowding in the local jail and to develop recommendations
to address the problem. The Coordinating Council should analyze problems of overcrowding
and high costs, including looking at who is coming into the jail and for what reasons, so that
effective and appropriate cost-saving alternatives can be identified and implemented.
B. Solutions to Over-Crowding
Any full assessment of who is in the jail and what is driving overcrowding on the local level will be
specific to each county, and so must be the solution. There is no one-size fits all solution to reducing

Positive Alternatives to Privatization and Incarceration in Shelby County

jail costs and decreasing the population of people detained at a given time, and local stakeholders must
come together in order to determine what will work best for their county. However, concerned local
officials and citizens can certainly look to what other communities have implemented, both for
examples of policies that have worked and for some best and worst case scenarios around new jail
construction. As a diverse range of local stakeholders, including the sheriff, probation and parole
officers, prosecutors, police, state judges, correctional employees, labor unions, organizations
representing people in prison and their families, faith and community representatives come together
as a Coordinating Council to determine what the best solutions are for Shelby County, they can
certainly be well informed by the steps taken by other communities grappling with similar pressures
of growing jail populations and straining budgets.
Programs, reforms and efficiency measures that have been implemented throughout the country as
mechanisms to reduce jail populations and save costs include a variety of pre-arrest, sentencing
reform and alternative restitution programs, such as:37
Citation Programs: These programs give citations to offenders without booking them
through the arrest process. Citations can entail a notice to appear or a desk appearance ticket, and
eliminate unnecessary jail bookings. Offenders are booked only when they present a flight risk,
present a clear and present danger to their community, or are unable to prove their identity. This
solution has been used in the case of low-level, misdemeanor crimes.
Programs for the Mentally Ill: By hiring civilian police employees with mental heath
training and by creating training programs to help officers recognize mental illness, counties can
divert people with mental illness away from jail and into emergency mental health care programs
instead. Trained officers can identify mental illness and work with other agencies to provide the
necessary treatment outside of detention facilities.
Improving Release Procedures for the Pretrial and Sentenced Populations: These
improvements decrease jail populations by ensuring that people are moving through the system in a
timely fashion. Examples include setting time limits for releasing pre-trial defendants brought in on
certain charges (i.e.: public drunkenness), transferring committed offenders (“state readies”) to state
facilities rapidly, and transferring mentally ill prisoners to state hospitals in a more timely fashion.
Monitoring/Expediting Detention Cases: Hiring case monitors to continuously review jail
prisoners to identify those who could be diverted from the jail or individuals whose cases could be
diverted in some manner.
Pretrial Diversion: Pretrial services programs can help alleviate jail crowding by releasing
prisoners before trial and by providing three essential services. First, they provide information about
the defendant to help decision makers make an appropriate pretrial release/detention decision.
Second, they provide the decision makers with options for safely releasing the defendant. Finally, they
have the capacity to monitor and supervise defendants released before trial.
Bail Reform: National studies show most pretrial prisoners are those who cannot post money
bond, or bail. Instituting bail reform is a means of alleviating overcrowding in this population.
Examples of such reform include increasing the frequency of initial appearance hearings that set bail,

and holding bond review hearings several days after defendants enter jail to determine whether they
might qualify for case disposition, bond reduction, or pretrial release consideration.
Specialty Courts: These include drug courts, domestic violence courts and mental health
courts. Specialty courts were developed as a means to provide individuals with a sanction that includes
treatment that would not be provided though the standard criminal justice system.
Alternatives to Incarceration: In response to increased jail populations, probation agencies
are working with other criminal justice agencies to develop alternative punishment programs, which
are court-mandated programs that require supervision but do not hold individuals in secure detention.
The most widely used alternative to incarceration program is supervised probation, which allows a
person found guilty of an offense to stay in the community, usually under the supervision of a
probation officer. Other alternatives to incarceration include measures such as electronic monitoring
and court mandated treatment programs. Many of these programs are coordinated by faith or
community based organizations, and hold at core the restorative justice principle that people are best
served by integration back into the community, for both the restitution and the assistance necessary
for full and healthy participation in community life.
C. Case Study in Reform: New York State
While the Rikers Island jail system in New York City is one of the largest penal colonies in the world,
the number of people detained within its facilities decreased significantly under the leadership of a
Commissioner of Corrections who was concerned with the mounting costs of detention over the last
two decades. Between 1991 and 2004 the jail population was reduced by 36%, from a peak of 21,500
to 13,750 in 2004, at significant cost-savings. This massive reduction in the jail population came at
the same time that New York City was experiencing a 68% drop in crime and a 70% decrease in
murders, demonstrating that there is little correlation between numbers of people in jail and public
safety. Programs such as New York City’s Center for Alternative Sentencing and Employment
Services, an organization that provides services and supervision in the community including substance
abuse prevention training, school placement and literacy classes to close to 14,000 people a year, are
just one of the many reasons why this drop in jail population has occurred.38
In Suffolk County, New York, the second most populous county in the state, swelling jail populations
in the late 1990s and the mounting costs of boarding people out to other neighboring facilities, on top
of pressure from the State Commission of Corrections to deal with overcrowding, prompted the
county to rush towards plans to build a massive new jail in early 2004. However, when the price tag on
the facility came back at $286 million to build, plus an additional $148.6 million in debt service,
fiscally concerned county officials put a brake on the project until its need could be further
assessed.39 Coupled with the concern from local residents about the trade-off in other important
budgetary projects and the social costs such a massive jail would entail, a process of examining the
factors of overcrowding in Suffolk County’s jail was begun in order to ensure real public safety and
cut costs at the same time. A Coordinating Council was convened, and in May 2005 they issued a
report that determined that the driving forces of increased jail population included:
• Policy changes/different use of jail (more non-felony crimes resulting in incarceration,
increased use of incarceration for both pre and post sentencing, defendants identified with
gangs being treated more severely, even for minor crimes, and changes in judicial and
prosecutorial practices)

Positive Alternatives to Privatization and Incarceration in Shelby County

• Lack of adequate resources for the mentally ill (mental health facilities have closed, giving
the criminal justice system fewer options and resulting in more mentally ill people in the jails)
• Underutilized alternatives to detention programs (programs in the community that had
empty space but were not being used due to lack of communication within the system)
• Changes in flow of system (more people flowing in, even though crime is down; as much as
60% of arrests are for minor offenses like public disorder, and fewer people can flow out of
the system as the court docket gets backed up.)40
The Coordinating Council issued a set of 29 recommendations on ways to address these factors
without building more jail space, including better mental health screening, supervised pre-trial release,
and better transportation to court for people facing hearings. Expansion plans for new construction
have already been downsized to a two-phase process, with the expectation that the second phase of
additional beds will no longer be necessary in a few years, and the projected cost of the project has
plummeted. Faith and community leaders have joined the other criminal justice stakeholders at the
table to push for a more rehabilitative, community oriented, and cost effective model of criminal
justice in Suffolk County.

V. Conclusion: Where Do We Go From Here?
As in other counties, any real effort to curtail costs and reduce the population of people incarcerated
in Shelby County must involve a full-scale effort to analyze the county jail system and determine the
most effective reforms and efficiency measures. While models from throughout the country can offer
examples of possible solutions, there are no one size fits all models to address the specific conditions
that produce overcrowding and high costs in a county jail system.
However, based on the experience of other counties around the country, it is possible to develop a set
of steps that would help Shelby County resolve its jail overcrowding problems, while saving money
and maintaining public safety. This report recommends that the following measures be
• Immediately halt any consideration of privatizing the Shelby County Jail and/or its
medical services, or the Shelby County Corrections Center. Privatizing the Shelby County
Jail and the Shelby County Corrections Center needs to be taken off the table now.
Privatization of the jail will not save the county money, or increase the efficiency of the
system. Privatization of the facility presents numerous potential problems, including unsafe
conditions for those who live and work within the jail, a lack of public accountability and
oversight, and the financial risk of long-term contracts.
• Convene a Coordinating Council whose mandate is to examine overcrowding in the jail
and develop recommendations to address it. By bringing together all the stakeholders in the
justice system in a real commitment to institute reforms, Shelby County could develop a
working blueprint to both reduce jail populations and cut detention costs. There are many
outside consultants who could help facilitate this process.41
• Transfer people convicted of felony offenses from the Shelby County Jail to state
facilities. People are currently being kept in the jail for up to two years after being sentenced,
driving up the jail population and forcing elected officials to seek solutions such as jail

expansion.42 Transferring state-ready people from the Shelby County Jail to the Tennessee
Division of Corrections, significantly freeing up local bed space, could immediately reduce the
population of the facility.
• Implement alternative sentencing for people convicted of misdemeanor offenses: On a
one-day sampling of the facility, 333 people, or 15.1%, of people in jail, were sentenced for
misdemeanor offenses. 43 Alternative sentencing for misdemeanors in Shelby County would
empty bed space and save taxpayer money, while also enabling people to maintain the
community ties that have been demonstrated to increase the probability that they do not come
into contact with the system again. Many of those incarcerated for misdemeanors and even
felony offenses may qualify for the Retribution and Rehabilitation Program, and programs such
as work release that would enable them to gain work skills.
• Develop efficiency measures to move people through the system faster pre-conviction:
40.6% of the people in jail in Shelby County are pre-trial, meaning that many of them could
possibly be released earlier through faster processing, bail reform measures, or pre-conviction
alternatives.44 An effective Coordinating Council could successfully help Shelby County
determine how many of the people currently filling the jails could be released to other
community programs, both improving public safety and saving taxpayers countless dollars.
Like other communities around the country, Shelby County faces important questions in the coming
months and years. Will concerned citizens come together to create successful alternatives to the
issues of overcrowding and endless spending? How can stakeholders come together to implement
reforms based on a positive vision for Shelby County that will advance the long-term health of the
community as it relates to corrections issues?
A great deal of work has already been done in other communities to address the problems that jail
privatization would create. Shelby County can learn from the experiences of other counties and states
so that those problems can be avoided. To build a sustainable and affordable system over the long run,
the county must take a determined stand against privatization not only of the Shelby County
Corrections Center and of the Shelby County Jail, but of medical and food services within the jail as
well. It must take a strong stand for public accountability, as well as for implementation of alternative
programs including sentencing reform. Convening a local Coordinating Council in the next few
months to address these issues as they arise over time is an important way to ensure that answers
appropriate to the local situation will be developed and adopted.


Positive Alternatives to Privatization and Incarceration in Shelby County

Report Sponsors:
Coalition Against Private Prisons (CAPP) includes AFSCME Local 1733, Blues Enrichment,
Communications Workers of America Local 3804, Grassroots Leadership, IBEW Local 474, IBEW
Local 1288, International Center for Learning and Exchange, Memphis Central Labor Council, MidSouth Interfaith Network, Mid-South Peace and Justice Center, Rainbow Push, Southern Christian
Leadership Conference (SCLC) and Women’s Action Coalition, along with individual educators,
students, correctional officers, faith leaders, artists, and community activists.
Grassroots Leadership is a Southern-based national organization that does grassroots organizing,
research, policy advocacy and public education on a range of privatization, prison and criminal justice
issues. Grassroots Leadership works to enhance the public good and to stop the erosion of the public
The analysis and recommendations contained in this report represent the judgment of the authors, and
are not necessarily endorsed in every detail by the many organizations and individuals that are quoted
and mentioned in it.
Dana Kaplan is a Soros Justice Fellow at the Center for Constitutional Rights, working with
local communities throughout the country to develop cost effective solutions to jail
overcrowding. She has been involved with criminal justice reform efforts for several years,
working previously at the National Resource Center on Prisons and Communities and the
Prison Moratorium Project, and interning at the Justice Policy Institute as well as the San
Francisco County Jail. She can be reached at
Bob Libal is co-coordinator of Grassroots Leadership’s national student and corporate
accountability campaigns. He holds a Bachelor in Science in Communication Studies from the
University of Texas. He can be reached at
Additional Resources:
The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) is a non-profit legal and educational
organization dedicated to protecting and advancing the rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution
and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 to support the Civil Rights
movement, over the last four decades CCR has played an important support role in many popular
movements for social justice.
The Pretrial Services Resource Center is a non-profit clearinghouse for information on
pretrial issues that provides technical assistance to pretrial practitioners and agencies.
The National Institute of Corrections provides federal, state and local corrections agencies
with training, technical assistance, information services, and policy/program development
The Institute for Law and Policy Planning has helped criminal justice systems rebuild
themselves for 30 years.
















The full resolution by the Presbyterian Church (USA) is available at
The full pastoral statement from the 48 Southern Bishops of the Roman Catholic Church is available at
Kenneth E. Kerle. “Exploring Jail Operations.” Maryland: American Jail Association (2000), p. 109.
Beck, Allen J. “Prison and Jail Inmates at Midyear 1999.” Bureau of Justice Statistics Bulletin. US Department of Justice, Bureau
of Justice Statistics. April 2000. NCJ 181643.
Paige M. Harrison & Allen J. Beck, Bureau of Justice Statistics, “Prisoners in 2004,.” October 2005.
“Killer’s escape angers family,” Jackson Sun, August 9, 2004.
“Ex-inmate with TB sues prison,” Jackson Sun, July 30, 2004.
“Year later, no answers in prisoner’s death,” The Tennessean, June 16, 2005.
“Inmate’s family sues for $160 million,”, October 5, 2005.
“Lawsuit blames CCA for death on infant,” The Tennessean, October 2, 2005.
“Prison videotape casts negative light on private jailing,” CNN, August 21, 1997.
Tulsa World, January 26, 2005.
“Five escape private Texas prison,” Associated Press, August 7, 2004.
Taken from Phillip Mattera, Mafruza Khan, and Stephen Nathan, Corrections Corporation of America: A Critical Look at its
First Twenty Years, Grassroots Leadership, December 2003. Originally reported in “Parents of Inmate Who Died File Prison
Lawsuit,” Houston Chronicle, May 21, 2003.
Phillip Mattera, Mafruza Khan, and Stephen Nathan, Corrections Corporation of America: A Critical Look at Its First Twenty
Years, Grassroots Leadership, December 2003.
James Austin & Garry Coventry, Bureau of Justice Assistance, U.S. Dep’t of Justice, Bulletin NCJ 181249, “Emerging Issues on
Privatized Prisons” (2001), pg 57.
Judith Greene, “Bailing Out Private Jails”, The American Prospect, September 10, 2001.
Data from Corrections Yearbook 2000 as reported at
Judith Greene, “Lack of Correctional Services,” in Capitalist Punishment: Prison Privatization & Human Rights, (eds. Coyle,
Andrew, Allison Cambell, and Rodney Neufeld), Clarity Press, Inc., 2003.
Ibid. 60.
Ibid. 60-61.
Ibid. 61.
U.S. General Accounting Office, “Private and Public Prison: Studies Comparing Operational Costs and/or Quality of Service”,
GAO/GGD-96-158, August 1996, pg. 3.
Travis C. Pratt & Jeff Maahs, “Are private prisons more cost-effective than public prisons? A meta-analysis of evaluation
research studies.” Crime and Delinquency, July 1999.
James Austin & Garry Coventry, Bureau of Justice Assistance, U.S. Department of Justice, Bulletin NCJ 181249, “Emerging
Issues on Privatized Prisons” (2001)
“Wardens from Wall Street: Prison Privatization,” November 2000. The full statement is available at
The full resolution of the United Methodist Church adopted in 2000 is available online at
The full resolution of the Presbyterian Church (USA) is available at
The Commercial Appeal, March 18, 2005


Positive Alternatives to Privatization and Incarceration in Shelby County




The Commercial Appeal, March 25, 2005
Mid-South Peace and Justice Center Newsletter, Fall 2005
The Commercial Appeal, February 27, 2005
Bureau of Justice Assistance. “A Second Look at Alleviating Jail Crowding: A Systems Perspective.” (October 2000), p. 2.
Mark A. Cunniff. Jail Crowding: Understanding Jail Population Dynamics. Washington, DC:
National Institute of Corrections (January 2002), p. 16.
Bureau of Justice Assistance, p. 2.
All of this information was compiled from the Bureau of Justice Assistance Report :Alleviating Jail Overcrowding: A Second
Look.” For a full copy of the report, go to
Michael Jacobson. Downsizing Prisons: How to Reduce Crime. New York: New York University Press (2005).
Michael Jacobson. “Suffolk County NY: Small Jail = Less Crime”. New York Newsday. March 13, 2005.
Criminal Justice Coordinating Council. Systems Planning Subcommittee Report. Suffolk County, New York: 2005.
See end of report for a list of further resources.
For more information, see: Comprehensive Retribution and Rehabilitation Program for Shelby County.
Shelby County Division of Corrections, Inmate Population Snapshot, September 28, 2004.
For more information, see: Comprehensive Retribution and Rehabilitation Program for Shelby County.