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Johnson County Commission says "no" to prison privatization

John Thompson • Aug 21, 2015 at 6:52 PM

MOUNTAIN CITY — Johnson County commissioners let state officials in on what they think about privatizing the local prison.

It’s “No way.”

The Johnson County Commission and Mayor Larry Potter sent that message to Nashville Thursday night, unanimously approving a resolution to “strongly oppose any privatization of Northeast Correctional Complex.”

The County Commission went a step further.

In honor of the passage of the resolution against privatization, the body designated the third Thursday of each August as a day to recognize the staff of the Northeast Correctional Complex.

The resolution passed by a vote of 14-0, with Commissioner George Lowe absent. 

“A vote of confidence in the staff of the prison is all it is,” Potter said. The resolution cited three ways the prison has contributed to the community: providing good jobs to local people; community service projects the prison has supported with its labor crews; and the assistance provided by the prison after a tornado on April 27, 2011.

The resolution said the prison “has been a great employer for our county, employing many citizens of Johnson and Sullivan counties.” It also said the prison’s support of community projects are “too numerous to mention” and “would never have happened” without the prison’s support.

It was because of those contributions since the prison’s 1990 opening that commissioners said they opposed any type of privatization. They said privatization “would be detrimental to our county, citizens, and staff of Northeast Correctional Complex.”

Potter said the resolution came about because of comments about privatization that appeared in the media over an extended period of time. Potter said people began to discuss it and things got hotter when newspapers in Nashville and Knoxville carried stories about possible privatization of state parks and colleges as well as state prisons.

As the local conversations heated, Potter said he called the Department of Correction, where a communications officer spoke with him.

“I told him his department was not doing a good job of communicating,” Potter said. He went on to tell the communications officer that the department needed to practice “some basic common sense on how you treat people and how you communicate with them.”

Potter said it has become clear from past experiments that “privatization harms both the prisoners and the staff.”

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