Tennessee lawmakers blasted the state Department of Correction at a meeting on Wednesday, the day after an audit found numerous violations in the state's prisons.
An oversight panel took the rare move of delaying the department's request for reauthorization — a procedural rebuke they hope will force state officials to improve the situation.
Many of their questions center on one facility in particular, the privately run Trousdale Turner Correctional Center in Hartsville. CoreCivic, the Nashville-based company formerly known as Corrections Corporation of America, runs the facility but cannot find enough people to handle the nearly 2,500 inmates housed there.
Casey Wilson, whose husband Cyrus is one of the inmates, told lawmakers at a hearing that the personnel shortage means prisoners rarely get to rehabilitation programs.
"He spends the majority of his time sitting on his bunk, waiting for inspection or waiting for count to clear," she says.
Members of state legislature's Government Operations Committee put much of the blame for this situation on the Department of Correction. They say officials haven't been tough enough on CoreCivic. Some members, including a few Republicans, say the failures call into question the very idea of letting private companies run prisons.
The panel of lawmakers refused, for the moment, to reauthorize the Department of Correction. They demanded that prison officials appear again before the committee in December.