Back in January, President Joe Biden signed an executive order directing the attorney general not to renew Justice Department contracts with privately operated criminal detention facilities.
The contract between CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America), which operates the West Tennessee Detention Facility in Mason, and the U.S. Marshals Service ends Sept. 30 and prisoners are being moved out of the facility on a daily basis.
Is the 30-year-old prison closing? Are the 200-plus people employed there losing their jobs?
The short answer: hopefully not.
County Executive Jeff Huffman is working on a plan to keep the prison, which has a major economic impact on Tipton County and Mason. The facility pays the county $170,000 and Mason $106,000 annually in property taxes. Its annual payroll is $13.7 million and its revenue is close to $20 million per year.
“Everybody’s worried over there because they’ve heard the prison is closing,” Huffman said. “We’re trying to come up with a deal to try to keep it open. I’ve got between now and Sept. 30 to figure the rest of this thing out.”
Huffman said the basic framework of the plan would include Tipton County signing a contract with U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement and a separate one with CoreCivic, which would operate the facility. The county would collect a fee based on facility population that Huffman estimated would be $200,000 annually.
“Tipton County won’t be running anything,” Huffman said. “We’re just doing the paper work and passing money from the federal government to CoreCivic and we’re keeping part of that as a fee.”
The facility has a capacity of 600. Huffman said the people who would be housed in the facility under the new arrangement would be ICE detainees. Many of them will not have been charged with anything, Huffman said, and will be either deported or released in Memphis within 60 days. Right now the facility houses pre-trial felons.
Huffman said CoreCivic is one of the top tax payers and employers in Tipton County. Several businesses in Mason benefit financially from the prison.
“There’s an economic ripple effect,” Huffman said. “We’re trying to keep the tax base there because I don’t want an empty facility growing up Johnson grass for the next 50 years … I think we’ll get something done.”