November 30, 2020

Southwest Mississippi leaders in ‘shock’ over changes at private prison

Southwest Mississippi leaders expressed shock and disappointment at news that federal prison officials decided not to renew a contract for the Adams County Correctional Center.

The owner of the facility, CoreCivic, announced Wednesday that the Federal Bureau of Prisons has elected not to renew its contract for the prison on U.S. 84 east of Natchez.

In 2009, CoreCivic opened the $120 million facility that currently employs more than 350 people.

Natchez Inc. Executive Director Chandler Russ said the decision to move the inmates to another facility was a surprise.

“Ultimately it was somewhat of a shock to us,” Russ said. “We thought the worst case scenario was that the Bureau of Prisons would reduce (the number of prisoners) in the prison. Given that they decided to split and go elsewhere with the contract is shocking.”

Russ said from his understanding the 10-year contract with CoreCivic was ending and that CoreCivic and the community had hoped the federal government would renew the contract.

As to why BOP decided to give the contract to another company, Russ said he does not know.

“We are trying to get our hands on the Bureau of Prisons to understand why it went the direction it did,” Russ said.

An aide for U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-Miss., said the senator is disappointed by the announcement and is also seeking answers from BOP.

“Along with others, she is in discussion with the Bureau of Prisons,” said Chris Gallegos, who is the communications director for Hyde-Smith. “She is asking for justification of this plan.”

Gallegos said that Hyde-Smith and U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., wrote to the head of the Bureau of Prison in support of CoreCivic’s application to renew the contract.

Despite the news, Russ said community leaders are working with CoreCivic officials along with Hyde-Smith, Wicker and 3rd District U.S. Rep. Michael Guest, R-Miss., toward a positive outcome for the facility.

“We need to remain positive as a community,” Russ said.

Russ said the best way to ensure a future for the facility is to have community support for the prison as it goes into the next phase.

“We still have a world-class facility that is in great shape.” Russ said. “Our goal is to work with our federal delegation and local leaders to assist CoreCivic to put additional contracts in the facility and secure its future.”

Russ said he doesn’t believe CoreCivic will leave the facility empty after the current contract with BOP ends.

“I don’t believe that is a viable option for them. (Core Civic) would be walking away from one of their newer facilities,” Russ said. “There is a $120 million asset that is sitting there.”

“To build the same facility with today’s money, they would have to build a $150 million facility. They are not trying to walk away from it.”

Gallegos said Hyde-Smith also is committed to finding a future for the prison.

“Sen. Hyde-Smith wants a positive outcome for the community and is working with local officials and (Core Civic) to reach that end.”