NASHVILLE -- A Senate Republican budget plan that calls for the state to spend $18 million to keep state prisoners at a West Tennessee lockup is drawing questions from House Speaker Kent Williams and Senate Democrats.
The state would maintain a prison population of about 1,500 inmates at the Whiteville Correctional Facility in Hardeman County through the first half of next year in the proposed plan. The prison is owned through June 30, 2011, by Corrections Corp. of America, the Nashville-based company that also runs Hamilton County's Silverdale Detention Center.
The Bredesen administration's budget plans call for withdrawing prisoners from Whiteville by Dec. 31.
The prison is in the district of Sen. Delores Gresham, R-Somerville, Rep. Williams said over the weekend.
"It's pork for her," he said. "That's basically what it is. If they're going to call the fish hatchery pork, that's definitely pork."
Lance Frizzell, deputy to Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, the Senate speaker, called it "silly to compare essential services such as housing dangerous criminals to the special projects of the members of the Legislature."
Later Tuesday, House Budget Subcommittee members included the Whiteville prison funding in its version of the budget.
Rep. Williams, an Elizabethton independent, has taken a pounding in recent days over his effort to keep $16.1 million in one-time federal stimulus funds for a fish hatchery in his district.
The $16.1 million provision disappeared from the bill approved Tuesday by the House Budget Subcommittee. But another provision provides money to begin paying for the project as well as the rehabilitation of several existing fish hatcheries.
With regard to the Whiteville facility, Senate Finance Republicans last week questioned whether a Bredesen administration plan to winnow down the number of paroled felons coming back into the state system was working.
The plan calls for providing treatment programs to parolees charged with technical violations such as failed drug tests in order to keep them from coming back to more-expensive prison facilities.
Correction Commissioner Gayle Ray and other officials testified they had not met projections with the program, but it was beginning to have an effect. Combined with other departmental reductions, the inmates could be transferred to other facilities without an adverse impact on public safety, Ms. Ray said in response to Democrats' questions.
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