Battle brews over who runs the jail - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Battle brews over who runs the jail

A new controversial battle is brewing tonight, over letting someone else run the Shelby County jail and Correction Center.

Outside the union hall on Danny Thomas, union leaders tell Action News Five they're gearing up for a fight.

Tora Ingram chairs the jailer's union.  With two competing plans to privatize the jail almost ready for unveiling, Ingram says the jailers and their union will pull no punches.  "We don't see where giving the jail 30 million dollars or 40 million dollars up front where in the long run it's going to cost more to run the jail anyway."

The debate over the future of the jail comes amid growing debt and growing fear of tax hikes and service reductions.

Commissioner Bruce Thompson, who has driven the debate, says privatizing will save tens of millions of dollars.

The latest plans involve requiring the private company to build a new jail on their dime.  "This would be a construction project worth hundreds of millions of dollars and would create hundreds of jobs during that period."

But union leaders are adamant.  "They want to remove these workers and bring in unskilled workers.  And that's not where this union is and the workers are going to be.  We're not going to stand for that," says Dorothy Crook.

Thompson says the debate will test taxpayer values, but he says he's confident that it's the right thing.

"Some of us are concerned about taxpayer dollars and preserving low rates.  Some people are more concerned about union fees and that tax flow.  I was elected by the taxpayers, not a union and i'm going to look after the taxpayers' money first," says Thompson.

Keep in mind, this coming year is an election year.  The union is threatening to work to unseat County Commissioners who support this idea.  Bruce Thompson, for his part, says he will do what he thinks is right, regardless of the impact on elections.

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