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how many prisons are in tennessee

16 Jun 2023, Prisons, by

Discover the number of prisons in Tennessee and gain insights into the state’s criminal justice system.

how many prisons are in tennessee - Inmate Lookup

Tennessee is home to a considerable number of prisons, both public and private, run by the state and the federal government. In this article, we will explore the various aspects of the prison system in Tennessee, including its history, types of prisons, capacity, inmate population, funding, challenges, rehabilitation programs, and the future outlook.

Understanding the prison system in Tennessee

The Tennessee prison system comprises both state prisons and county jails, along with privately-run prisons. The state-run prisons come under the authority of the Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC) and house individuals who have been convicted of a felony offense and sentenced to a minimum of one year in prison. County jails, on the other hand, hold individuals who are awaiting trial or sentencing or serving sentences shorter than one year.

It is important to note that Tennessee has a high incarceration rate, with over 26,000 individuals currently in state prisons and over 10,000 in county jails. The state has implemented various programs and initiatives aimed at reducing recidivism rates and providing rehabilitation opportunities for inmates, including education and job training programs. However, critics argue that more needs to be done to address the root causes of crime and reduce the overall number of individuals in the prison system.

History of prisons in Tennessee

The first prison in Tennessee was built in Nashville in 1830, following the establishment of the state penitentiary system. Over the years, the state has witnessed a significant increase in the number of prisons, driven primarily by rising crime rates and tough-on-crime policies. As of 2021, there are more than 20 state-run prisons, 10 privately-run prisons, and several county jails across Tennessee.

One of the most notable prisons in Tennessee is the Tennessee State Prison, which was built in 1898 and operated until 1992. The prison was known for its Gothic architecture and was featured in several movies, including The Green Mile and The Last Castle. Today, the prison is closed to the public, but it remains a popular tourist attraction.

In recent years, Tennessee has made efforts to reduce its prison population through criminal justice reform initiatives. These initiatives include expanding access to alternative sentencing programs, such as drug courts and mental health courts, and increasing funding for reentry programs to help formerly incarcerated individuals successfully reintegrate into society. While there is still much work to be done, these efforts have shown promising results in reducing recidivism rates and improving public safety in Tennessee.

Types of prisons in Tennessee

Tennessee has different types of prisons designed to house individuals based on several factors, such as gender, age, security level, and medical and mental health needs. Some of the types of prisons in Tennessee include maximum-security, medium-security, minimum-security, and specialized facilities for women, juveniles, and individuals with mental illnesses.

Additionally, Tennessee also has a number of privately-run prisons, which are operated by for-profit companies under contract with the state. These facilities have been the subject of controversy, with some critics arguing that they prioritize profits over the well-being of inmates and staff. However, proponents of privatization argue that it can lead to cost savings and more efficient management of the prison system.

Number of state-run prisons in Tennessee

As mentioned earlier, Tennessee has over 20 state-run prisons, which house more than 20,000 inmates. Some of the notable state-run prisons include Riverbend Maximum Security Institution, Turney Center Industrial Complex, and the Tennessee Prison for Women. The TDOC oversees the operations of these prisons and provides various programs and services to support inmate rehabilitation and reentry into society.

In addition to state-run prisons, Tennessee also has several privately-run prisons. These prisons are operated by private companies under contract with the state. While the TDOC still oversees the operations of these prisons, they are not directly managed by the state. Some of the notable privately-run prisons in Tennessee include the South Central Correctional Facility and the Whiteville Correctional Facility.

Number of privately-run prisons in Tennessee

Tennessee is also home to ten privately-run prisons, which are operated by companies under contract with the state. The private prisons have faced criticism for their cost-effectiveness and quality of care provided to inmates. Nevertheless, they remain a significant component of the state’s prison system and house a considerable number of individuals.

One of the main arguments in favor of privately-run prisons is that they can save taxpayers money. However, critics argue that cost-cutting measures can lead to inadequate staffing levels and lower-quality services for inmates. Additionally, there have been concerns about the potential for conflicts of interest between private prison companies and state officials responsible for overseeing them.

Despite these controversies, the use of privately-run prisons is not unique to Tennessee. Many other states also rely on private companies to operate some of their correctional facilities. The debate over the pros and cons of private prisons is likely to continue for the foreseeable future, as policymakers and advocates grapple with how best to balance the need for cost-effective incarceration with the need to ensure humane treatment of prisoners.

Federal prisons in Tennessee

Besides state and private prisons, Tennessee is home to several federal prisons, including the United States Penitentiary, the Federal Correctional Institution, and the Federal Transfer Center, all located in Memphis. These facilities house individuals who have been convicted of federal crimes, such as drug trafficking, immigration offenses, or white-collar crimes.

In addition to the federal prisons located in Memphis, Tennessee also has a Federal Correctional Complex in Coleman, which includes a high-security penitentiary, a medium-security institution, and a low-security facility. This complex houses inmates convicted of federal crimes from all over the country, and provides a range of programs and services to help prepare them for reentry into society.

County jails in Tennessee

Tennessee has over 90 county jails, which are operated by local government authorities. These jails house individuals who are awaiting trial or serving short-term sentences. While they are responsible for providing adequate care and support, they often face issues such as overcrowding, understaffing, and inadequate resources.

According to a report by the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office, the state’s county jails have seen a significant increase in the number of inmates with mental health issues. This has put a strain on the already limited resources of these facilities, as they struggle to provide proper care and treatment for these individuals. The report also highlights the need for better collaboration between county jails and mental health providers to address this issue.

Capacity of prisons in Tennessee

The total capacity of Tennessee’s prisons stands at approximately 31,000 inmates. However, the state’s prison system is plagued by overcrowding, with many facilities having more inmates than their designed capacity. Overcrowding is a cause for concern in the prison system, as it can lead to health and safety issues for both inmates and staff.

In recent years, the state of Tennessee has implemented several initiatives to address the issue of overcrowding in its prisons. These include alternative sentencing programs, such as community service and probation, as well as increased funding for mental health and substance abuse treatment programs. While these efforts have helped to reduce the number of inmates in some facilities, overcrowding remains a significant problem in many others.

Average inmate population in Tennessee’s prisons

As of 2021, the average inmate population in Tennessee’s prisons is approximately 25,000. This number includes both state-run and privately-run prisons. While this is lower than the peak population of 29,000 in 2011, it is still a significant burden on the state’s prison system.

The majority of inmates in Tennessee’s prisons are serving time for drug-related offenses, with over 50% of the population being incarcerated for drug offenses. This has led to discussions about the effectiveness of the state’s drug policies and the need for alternative approaches to addressing drug addiction and related crimes.

In recent years, Tennessee has implemented several programs aimed at reducing the inmate population, including diversion programs for non-violent offenders and increased access to mental health and addiction treatment. While these efforts have shown some success, there is still a long way to go in addressing the root causes of incarceration and reducing the burden on the state’s prison system.

Trends and changes in the number of prisoners over time

Tennessee has witnessed significant changes in its prison population over the years, with peaks and troughs attributed to various factors, such as changes in sentencing laws, crime rates, and economic conditions. Since the 2010s, there has been a significant decline in the number of inmates in Tennessee’s prisons, driven primarily by a drop in crime rates and changes in sentencing policies.

Factors influencing the number of prisoners in Tennessee

Several factors influence the number of inmates in Tennessee’s prisons. These include changes in crime rates, demographic shifts, changes in sentencing laws and policies, economic conditions, and trends in the criminal justice system. The state’s prison system is affected by both internal and external factors that impact its capacity and operations.

Comparison with other states’ prison systems

Tennessee’s prison system is comparable to those of other states in terms of its size and operations. However, there are significant differences in the state’s approach to criminal justice, with some states focusing more on rehabilitation and reentry programs and others on punitive measures. Tennessee often compares itself to neighboring states such as Kentucky, Alabama, and Georgia in terms of its prison system.

Funding for Tennessee’s prison system

The Tennessee prison system is funded through a combination of state and federal funds. The state’s budget provides funding for the operations of state-run prisons and county jails, while federal funds cover the costs of housing federal inmates. In recent years, the state has faced budgetary constraints that have impacted the adequacy and quality of care provided to inmates.

Challenges faced by the prison system in Tennessee

Tennessee’s prison system faces several challenges, including overcrowding, understaffing, inadequate funding and resources, and rising healthcare costs. The system also faces criticism from various groups for its punitive approach to criminal justice and inadequate support for inmate rehabilitation and reentry programs.

Impact of overcrowding on prisoners and staff

Overcrowding is a significant problem in Tennessee’s prisons, with many facilities exceeding their designed capacities. The impact of overcrowding on inmates and staff can be severe, leading to various issues such as increased rates of violence, disease outbreaks, and reduced access to essential services. The state is working on reducing overcrowding through various measures, including diversion programs, reentry programs, and alternative sentencing options.

Rehabilitation programs offered to inmates in Tennessee’s prisons

Tennessee’s prison system offers various rehabilitation programs to help inmates reintegrate into society. These programs include academic and educational programs, vocational training, substance abuse treatment, mental health services, and faith-based programs. The aim of these programs is to equip inmates with the necessary skills and support to lead productive and law-abiding lives after their release.

Recidivism rates for prisoners released from Tennessee’s prisons

Recidivism is a significant issue for the prison system, as it refers to the likelihood that an individual released from prison will re-offend. In Tennessee, the recidivism rate is around 50%, which is the national average. The state is working on reducing recidivism through various measures, including enhanced rehabilitation programs, stronger community support, and improved reentry services.

Role of community support and reentry programs

Community support is crucial in reducing recidivism and supporting successful reentry after prison. The state of Tennessee offers various community-based programs and services, such as job placement, housing assistance, and mentorship programs, to support inmates reintegrate into society. These programs are essential in addressing the root causes of crime and supporting individuals to lead productive and fulfilling lives.

Future outlook for the prison system in Tennessee

The future of Tennessee’s prison system is interlinked with broader changes in the criminal justice system and societal attitudes towards crime and punishment. The state is working on reducing its prison population through various measures, such as diversion programs, implementing evidence-based practices, and reforming sentencing policies. However, it remains to be seen whether these measures will lead to long-term sustainable changes in the state’s prison system.


Tennessee’s prison system is complex and faces significant challenges, including overcrowding, inadequate funding, and rising healthcare costs. Nevertheless, the state is working on various measures to address these challenges and improve the quality of care provided to inmates. The role of community support, rehabilitation programs, and reentry services is crucial in ensuring that inmates successfully reintegrate into society and lead productive lives. The future outlook for the prison system in Tennessee is dependent on broader societal changes in criminal justice policies and attitudes towards crime and punishment.