'On the day the U.S. Senate passed the First Step Act, the much-heralded federal criminal justice reform bill just signed into law, 63-year-old Bill Anderson stood before a joint subcommittee of the Tennessee General Assembly. With his wife Teresa, Anderson had traveled from Cleveland, Tennessee, far from Washington, D.C., and a nearly three-hour drive from downtown Nashville.
“We’re here because of the death of our son,” Anderson began. “On December 6, 2018, he was found hanging in his cell in Trousdale Turner.” The facility is the largest private prison in Tennessee and one of the most dangerous, beset by staff shortages, gang activity and inadequate medical care. News reports, whistleblowers, and families like the Andersons have long raised alarm about Trousdale, where numerous people have died since it opened in 2016.
The hearing was set to follow up on a damning audit in 2017. Run by CoreCivic, the Nashville-based company formerly known as the Corrections Corporation of America, Trousdale opened under a $276-million contract, promising programs aimed at rehabilitation, from job training to drug counseling. Instead it quickly came to embody the neglect and impunity that has made private prison companies notorious nationwide.
Although the state relies on CoreCivic to house a third of its incarcerated population, the company’s recent track record has prompted local lawmakers to threaten its operations in Tennessee. For a fleeting moment toward the end of the Obama administration, the company appeared to be on the brink of losing business at the federal level as well. But buoyed by Donald Trump’s election — and after rebranding itself as a “government solutions company” — CoreCivic continues to do steady business. A “zero tolerance” immigration policy has fueled demand for immigration detention centers, where miserable conditions have also proven deadly. Like Ross Anderson, who would have turned 35 this week, immigrants held at its facilities have died by suicide after their mental illness went untreated.
In a checkered shirt and with a full beard, Bill Anderson maintained his composure as he spoke of his son. But his grief was raw. His son’s suicide occurred exactly three years after a “psychotic breakdown,” when he fatally shot his girlfriend and her 5-year-old child. Diagnosed as schizophrenic, he was driven by delusions and did not comprehend his own actions, his father explained. Prosecutors wanted the death penalty but ultimately offered a plea deal, according to the local press, citing a “significant chance that he would have been found not guilty by reason of insanity.” Despite a recommendation that Anderson’s son be committed to a mental institution, he was instead sent to Trousdale. After his death, the family was notified by a prison chaplain but never heard from anyone else. “We’re tormented knowing he died alone in a place where no one loved him, and he was just a number,” Anderson said, his voice breaking.'
Read more: The First Step Act Could Be A Big Gift To Corecivic And The Private Prison Industry
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