Hardeman County prison incident incites questions about CoreCivic facilities

WHITEVILLE, Tenn. -- CoreCivic already has its fair share of controversy and now a violent incident Sunday night is causing even more concern.

CoreCivic representatives said officials responded to the Hardeman County Correctional Facility in Whiteville for a fight between inmates around 8 p.m. Sunday. They didn’t say how many were involved or what kinds of weapons they used, but they did say they airlifted one to the hospital and took two others in an ambulance.

CoreCivic officials also did not answer questions about why there were several helicopters circling the facility, according to witnesses, even though only one inmate required medical help.

Andrea Cole used to work at the prison and spent even more time working for the operator CoreCivic, formerly known as the Corrections Corporation of America, in other states including Ohio and Nevada.

“You’re in a male prison. There’s a lot of testosterone. Men get into fights," she said of the incident.

But she defended her former employer.

“CCA is a good company to work for. It has its up and has its downs," Cole said.

By ups and downs, she’s talking about a lot of recent news, including a lawsuit blaming under-staffing at Hardeman County Correctional Center for the death of an inmate and a class-action lawsuit accusing CoreCivic employees of withholding insulin from diabetic inmates at another CoreCivic location.

“These prisons from CoreCivic are for-profit so they’re chronically understaffed to save money," activist Hunter Demster said.

In fact, Demster and others from all around Tennessee recently staged a protest at CoreCivic’s Nashville headquarters.

"We blocked all three entrances with very unique and creative ways that not one person got in or out for 24 hours," Demster said.

He referenced an audit from the state last year that stated some CoreCivic locations “operated with fewer than approved correctional officer staff, did not have all staffing rosters, did not follow staffing pattern guidelines, and one left critical posts unstaffed.”

“When you’re choosing profit over people, this is exactly what’s going to happen,” Demster said.

In response, CoreCivic sent WREG the following statement:

"CoreCivic is committed to operating safe, secure facilities, and a significant part of meeting that goal is hiring and retaining qualified staff. To attract talent, we pay competitive wages and offer excellent benefits including health, dental and vision insurance, as well as the opportunity to participate in our company-sponsored retirement plan. We work to meet or exceed our daily staffing patterns, which are designed to ensure the safety of the facility and are reviewed and approved by our government partners. We don’t cut corners on care, staff or training, which meets, and in many cases exceeds, our government counterpart’s standards."  

 

The Tennessee Dept. of Corrections' Office of Investigation and Compliance is looking into the cause of the incident. Until then, they said the facility remains on lock down.