Prison Beds and Compensated Man-Days: The Spatio-Temporal Order of Carceral Neoliberalism.

AuthorGuenther, Lisa

IN TROUSDALE COUNTY, 50 MILES NORTHEAST OF NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE, A giant relic of the nuclear age rises up from the surrounding farmland. This is what remains of the Hartsville Nuclear Complex: a 535-foot cooling tower, the footprint of a second cooling tower, and a collection of other buildings. The Hartsville plant was projected to become the world's largest nuclear reactor, but construction was canceled in 1984, and the plant was never operational. A large private prison lies at the foot of the single cooling tower, built and managed by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), now known as CoreCivic. The prison and the reactor are flanked by PowerCom, a business industrial park consisting of several tidy rows of large, beige, mostly empty warehouses. The whole nuclear-prison-(post)industrial complex is situated in a bend of the Cumberland river near the small, quiet town of Hartsville, the site of a Civil War battle in which Confederate forces took over 1,800 Union soldiers captive and commandeered their supplies. Prior to the Civil War and the partial abolition of slavery, Hartsville had been the central marketplace for cotton farmers in the region; after the war, the main crop was tobacco, but the tobacco factories left decades ago (Durbin 2009). Today, the county's slogan is "Honoring our Past, Securing our Future." (1) By investing in neoliberal penality, Hartsville hopes to revive its economic prospects at the intersection of power, commerce, and punishment. As Mayor Carroll Carman said at a groundbreaking ceremony for the Trousdale Turner Correctional Center in 2014, "I'm like a kid in a candy store ... I believe with all my heart that CCA will be an excellent neighbor" (Higgins 2014). But what exactly is the "candy," and what are the conditions of its production? In this article, I develop a brief genealogy of the systems of power and spatio-temporal orders that collide, overlap, and reinforce each other on the Trousdale nuclear/prison/warehouse site. I argue that the prison bed' and the "compensated man-day" function as basic units of carceral neoliberal space-time; these are the terms by which the potentiality for caging marginalized populations is monetized and wealth is extracted from the poor. However, a closer examination of the design, context, and materiality of these prison cages reveals an excess that goes beyond and against the logic of neoliberal penality. The possibility of dismantling cages, both in private and state-run prisons, lies in the affirmation and amplification of this excess.

CCA: A Corporate Biography of Neoliberal Penality

CCA was founded in 1983 by three men: Thomas W. Beasley, Doctor R. Crants, and T. Don Hutto. Tom "Wish" Beasley was born on his family's farm in Smith County, Tennessee, just a few miles from the site that would eventually become the Trousdale Turner Correctional Center. Beasley s family roots in the area go back to 1803, when Hartsville was a thriving agricultural center. Beasley's family farm, now known as the Lewis Beasley Century Farm, was one of the top recipients of farm subsidies in Trousdale County from 1995 to 2014 (EWG 2014).Tom Beasley graduated from the West Point Military Academy in 1966 and from the Vanderbilt Law School in 1973, working for several years as a lawyer, then serving as chairman of the Tennessee Republican Party from 1977 to 1981. During law school, Beasley rented an apartment from Lamar Alexander, who would later become governor of Tennessee and a supporter of CCA's bid to take over the entire Tennessee prison system. Lamar Alexander is one of the top recipients of campaign donations from CCA (Hale 2014). His wife, Honey Alexander, was an early investor in CCA, as were Vanderbilt University, the Hospital Corporation of America, and the Tennessee Valley Authority (Selman & Leighton 2010, 81; Wray 1989).

Doctor Robert Crants (first name Doctor) was born and raised for the first five years of his life on a Seneca Nation reservation in New York state. He earned a scholarship to attend West Point, where his roommate was Tom Beasley. Both Crants and Beasley served in Vietnam, after which Crants earned degrees in law and business from Harvard, then moved to Nashville to work in real estate and cable TV broadcasting (Miller 1998). According to Crants, "Tom came bursting into my office [on January 23, 1983] and said, 'Why don't we privatize the county jail? ... Think of it. There are five television stations in Nashville and only one county jail. It's the ultimate franchise'" (Miller 1998). A 2003 CCA source tells a somewhat different story, in which Crants and Beasley "hit upon the idea of privatized prisons during a conversation with an executive of the Magic Stove Company [at a Republican Party fundraiser in 1983]: 'He said he thought it would be a heck of a venture for a young man: to solve the prison problem and make a lot of money at the same time'" (quoted in Selman & Leighton 2010, 56).

In any case, Beasley and Crants lacked both experience and professional contacts in corrections, so they brought Don Hutto into the partnership. Hutto had served as director of corrections in Virginia and Arkansas, and he had just been elected president of the American Correctional Association, a professional association that administers the accreditation process for prisons, jails, and detention centers. From the beginning, then, CCA relied on political connections to secure its financial interests, understanding that the only "clients" for its proposed services could be local, state, and federal governments with the authority to sanction punishment and captivity. CCA's business model is based in part on the Hospital Corporation of America (which was cofounded by Jack Massey and the Frist family, which includes former Republican Senator Bill Frist of Nashville, Tennessee) and in part on the hotel industry (making Sodexho/Marriott a natural, if controversial, partner). (2) The concept of the "prison bed" as a monetizable unit, rather than a condition of care or service, emerges from this genealogy, as does CCA's practice of building minimum bed guarantees into its contracts with the state (which is not unlike the block of rooms that conference organizers book with hotels in order to secure a special rate). (3)

In 1985, after a slow start in which CCA was operating at a deficit of almost $6 million, the company made an audacious bid to lease the entire Tennessee prison system for 99 years (Selman & Leighton 2010, 63-64). In exchange for the contract, CCA proposed to pay the state of Tennessee $50 million immediately and another $50 million over the next 20 years, with $150 million worth of infrastructure development and an annual operating fee of $175 million (Selman & Leighton 2010, 61). At the time, the Tennessee prison system was in a crisis of overcrowding and intolerable living conditions, which provoked prison riots and a class action lawsuit [Grubbs v. Bradley (1983)] that eventually shut down the Tennessee State Penitentiary and put the Tennessee prison system into federal receivership for 10 years. It was precisely at this moment of crisis that CCA emerged as a capitalist solution to the problem of the systemic violations of the Eighth Amendment in Tennessee prisons.

Governor Lamar Alexander, a close friend and former landlord of Tom Beasley, supported CCA's proposal, but after an effective anti-privatization campaign by the Tennessee State Employees Association, the plan was rejected by the Tennessee legislature. State legislators took a further cautionary step, passing the Private Prison Act of 1986, which limited the number of private prisons in the state to a single facility. (As we will see, CCA gets around this law by signing contracts with the county rather than directly with the state of Tennessee.) Even though CCA's bid to take over the state prison system failed, the campaign won the company national attention and an invitation to testify as "distinguished witnesses" to a state judiciary subcommittee. This gave CCA executives a national platform for their argument that private industry could manage corrections more efficiently than the state. In Tom Beasley's words, "We knew the era of big government was over. We could sell privatization as a solution, you sell it just like you were selling cars, or real estate, or hamburgers" (quoted in Selman & Leighton 2010, 58). However, Beasley understates his company's chief innovation, which was not just to sell privatization, but to sell privatized punishment, "turning the restriction of liberty into a service" (Selman & Leighton 2010, 70).

Twelve years later, CCA tried once again to lease the entire Tennessee prison system. This time, the governor was Republican Don Sundquist, whose wife Martha and their three adult children were business partners (in a BBQ restaurant called Red Hot & Blue) with Speaker of the House Jimmy Naifeh, Representative Matt Kisber, and none other than CCA's Tom Beasley. Naifeh's wife, Betty Anderson, was CCA's chief lobbyist in the Tennessee state legislature, and both Doc Crants and Tom Beasley made significant contributions to the 1998 reelection campaigns of Sundquist, Naifeh, and Kisber (Hallett 2006, 95-96; see also Selman & Leight on 2010, 97). In May 1997, after secret meetings with private prison executives, Kisber sponsored a biU to lease Tennessee's prisons to CCA for a $100 million "franchise fee" (Friedmann 1998). At the time, the Tennessee legislature was facing a $100 million budget shortfall. Again, the Tennessee State Employees Association (TSEA) organized against the bill, and again the bill was defeated after a series of high-profile escapes and riots at CCA prisons across the United States, including Youngstown (Hallett 2006, 98-105).

When CCA's bid to take over the Tennessee prison system failed for the second time, Doc Crants and his son, D. Robert Crants III, created a Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) called Prison...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT