How are the prisons in Tennessee?

Tennessee State Prison - Tennessee State Prison

Former State Prison in Nashville, Tennessee, USA
place Nashville, Tennessee
Coordinates 36 ° 10'38 "N 86 ° 51'55" W. /. 36.1772 ° N 86.8654 ° W / 36.1772; -86.8654 Coordinates: 36.1772 ° N 86.8654 ° W. 36 ° 10'38 "N 86 ° 51'55" W. /. / 36.1772; -86.8654
status Closed in 1992
Security class High / medium security
capacity 1.400
Open 1898

The Tennessee State Prison is a former correctional facility located near downtown Nashville, Tennessee. It opened in 1898 and has been closed since 1992 due to overcrowded concerns. The mothballed facility was severely damaged by an EF3 tornado when the tornado erupted from March 2-3, 2020.


The Tennessee State Prison, formerly the Tennessee State Penitentiary, is a former correctional facility located near downtown Nashville, Tennessee. Opened in 1898, the prison has been closed since 1992.

The original Tennessee State Penitentiary opened on January 1, 1831 with 200 cells, a dormitory, and a hospital. Modeled after the Auburn Penitentiary in discipline and design, the prison was the first of its kind in Tennessee and the South. Inmates were subject to practices advocated by the Auburn Model, such as "During the daytime prisoners worked silently in workshops, eyes downcast, while at night they slept alone in separate cells. Under no circumstances could they communicate, and only if they did As necessary, they could receive letters or phone calls from relatives and friends. "The prison housed both men and women, with the first male inmate recorded in 1831 and the first female inmate recorded in 1840. A separate women's wing opened in 1892, but the overcrowding soon forced the men and women to be housed together. The original Tennessee State Prison on Church Street was later demolished in 1898 and recyclable materials were used in the construction of outbuildings in the new facility, creating a physical connection from 1831 to the present day. The proposed prison design envisaged the construction of a fortress-like structure modeled on the prison in Auburn, New York, known for the lockstep march, striped prisoner uniforms, night solitary confinement, and daytime assembly work in strict silence. The new prison in Tennessee contained 800 small cells, each with a single inmate. In addition, an administration building and other smaller buildings for offices, warehouses and factories were erected within 6.15 m high, 1 m thick rock walls. The plan also envisaged a working farm outside the walls and a separate system for younger offenders to isolate them from older, die-hard criminals. A separate women's wing was built at the northwest corner of the site to house the female inmates who worked on the farm.

The prison was built by Enoch Guy Elliott, who was married to Lady Ida Beasley Elliott, a missionary in Burma. Governor Turney made Enoch Guy Elliott the main guardian of the old prison, and during the construction of the second prison, Enoch mainly used prison labor to build the new prison.

The cost of building this second Tennessee prison exceeded $ 500,000 ($ 12.3 million in 2007), excluding the land price. The prison's 800 cells were opened to admit prisoners on February 12, 1898, and 1,403 prisoners were admitted that day, resulting in immediate overcrowding. Overcrowding persisted to a greater or lesser extent over the course of the next century.

In 1863 the Union Army seized the state prison and used it as a military prison. Under the Union occupation, the prison population tripled and conditions deteriorated. Convicts were leased to the federal government by the Tennessee Occupation Government to help repay their growing debts. Among the prisoners held during this period was Mark Cockrill, a Confederate sympathizer, whose West Nashville property would later be purchased for the construction of the new prison. After the Civil War, the percentage of black inmates in the state of Tennessee rose dramatically from about 5% of the prison population before the Civil War to about 62% in 1869. The percentage of black women in prison was significantly higher than black men in relation to whites, with all female prisoners in Tennessee in 1868 were African American women.

Each convict was expected to cover part of the cost of incarceration through physical labor. Inmates worked up to 16 hours a day on meager rations and unheated, unventilated bedrooms. In the 1840s, prison labor increased and inmates were employed in the construction of the Nashville Capitol building. Prison work was so lucrative that the state prison became an income generating system that was in direct competition with free workers. The state also signed contracts with private companies to operate factories inside the prison walls with convict workers. In 1870, the state prison signed a contract with the Tennessee Coal, Iron and Railroad Company and established the first convict leasing program in the country. This only added to the growing frustration among the free workers who launched a strike against the Tennessee Coal, Iron and Railroad Company in 1871. Though efforts ultimately came to nothing, this was the first of many revolts against the convict leasing system with private companies to run factories inside the prison walls with convict workers.

The Tennessee State Penitentiary had some problems. In 1902, seventeen prisoners blew up the end of one wing of the prison, killing one inmate and allowing two others to escape who were never captured again. Later, a group of inmates took control of the separated white wing and held it for eighteen hours before surrendering. In 1907, several convicts commanded a shift motor and drove it through a prison gate. In 1938 inmates carried out a mass escape. Several serious fires started in the prison, including one that destroyed the main dining room. Riots occurred in 1975 and 1985.

In 1989, the Tennessee Justice Department opened a new prison, the Riverbend Maximum Security Institution in Nashville. The old Tennessee State Prison closed in June 1992. As part of the class action settlement, Grubbs v Bradley (1983), federal court issued a standing order prohibiting the Tennessee Department of Justice from repeatedly placing inmates in Tennessee State Prison.

The former prison was badly damaged by an EF3 tornado when the tornado erupted from March 2-3, 2020.

In film and television

It was the place for the movies Framed , Nashville , Marie , Ernest Goes to Jail , Against the Wall , Last dance , The Green Mile , The Last Castle and Walk the line as well as for two of Eric Church's music videos "Lightning" and "Homeboy", the music video by Cage The Elephant for "Cold Cold Cold" and Pillar's "Bring Me Down". VH1s Celebrity Paranormal Project was shot there for the third episode of the series (titled "The Warden") and for the last episode of the first season (titled "Dead Man Walking"). The prison was referred to as "The Walls Maximum Security Prison" in both episodes in order to protect the privacy of the place.


  • Remnants of the electric chair chamber

  • Typical cell facilities


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