On a recent sunny Tuesday afternoon, the West Tennessee Detention Facility looked pretty much how it has always looked since it opened three decades ago on Finde Naifeh Drive in Mason.
The grass was cut, the bushes were trimmed and all the signage was still on display.
However, the parking lot was nearly empty and there was no security truck patrolling the perimeter.
Why? Because there are no prisoners behind the walls.
Back in January of 2021, President Joe Biden signed an executive order directing the attorney general not to renew Justice Department contracts with privately-operated criminal detention facilities. Nine months later, on Sept. 30, the contract between CoreCivic, which owns and operates the facility, and the U.S. Marshals Service expired.
Over the following weeks, approximately 500 prisoners were transferred to the Shelby County Jail and employees were offered the chance to transfer to other CoreCivic prisons around the country. On Tuesday there were a couple of employees outside the facility, but it appears as though most are gone. Attempts to reach CoreCivic for confirmation of this were unsuccessful.
In the weeks before the contract expired, Tipton County Executive Jeff Huffman and CoreCivic representatives attempted to keep the prison open. The basic framework of the plan would have included Tipton County signing a contract with U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and a separate one with CoreCivic, which would have operated the facility. The county would have collected a fee based on facility population that Huffman estimated would have been $200,000 annually.
The federal government nixed the plan, leaving the following question: What’s going to happen to the Mason prison?
“What they’re trying to decide, quite frankly, is is this federal policy of not issuing contracts to for-profit private prisons going to be a short-term federal policy or a long-term federal policy?” Huffman said Tuesday afternoon.
Huffman pitched a plan to CoreCivic of converting the 44-acre property into an RV park that could be utilized by construction workers involved with Ford Blue Oval project in Haywood County.
“It would be perfect,” Huffman said. “Maybe use the cafeteria … The sewer and utilities are already there.”
So far, that plan does not appear to be in the works.
The closing of the prison will have a significant impact on the Town of Mason, which collects property tax from CoreCivic. Huffman said about two-thirds of Mason’s sewer revenue comes from the prison.
It’s possible things could change if a new president is elected in 2024, but, for now, there’s a prison in Mason with no prisoners.