Oregon corrections officials are investigating reports of sexual contact between female inmates and the staff of a private prison in Arizona being run by the company just picked to build and run Idaho’s new 1,250-bed prison.
Oregon officials said at least one worker was fired at the Central Arizona Detention Center in Florence, and several others have resigned or been put on leave from the facility run by Corrections Corp. of America.
The medium-security prison houses 69 female inmates and 227 male inmates from Oregon.
At issue are reports of “non-forcible sexual contact” between employees and Oregon female inmates confined in the center’s disciplinary segregation unit. Prison rules prohibit sexual contact between staff and inmates.
Investigators have confirmed the reports are “the real thing, as opposed to the dime-a-dozen allegations that come up,” Oregon Corrections Department spokesman Jim Lockwood said.
The allegations surfaced in July when two female inmates reported having sex with prison staff. The women were returned to Oregon a few weeks later.
Florence police have not determined if criminal charges will be filed against any prison employees there.
Brian Bemus, who runs the Oregon prison system’s classification and transfer division, said the state does not intend to remove the remaining inmates. Corrections Corp. of America officials have already taken corrective action including no longer letting male employees supervise female inmates in the segregation unit, he said.
“We don’t feel it’s an unsafe place to have our women,” Bemus said.
Lockwood said three state officials recently went to the Arizona prison to review overall inmate treatment and the department is considering sending an audit team.
The Nashville, Tenn.,-based company is the largest private prison operator in the nation, running more than 60 facilities with 45,000 inmates in 17 states and Puerto Rico, England and Australia.
Its bid for the new Idaho prison beat out second-place finisher Wackenhut, based in Florida, by 33 points out of a possible 900. Corrections Corp. America was not the cheapest bidder for either building or operating the new prison. Four of the eight qualified bidders were cheaper on both fronts. But price accounted for only a third of the evaluation, and Corrections Corp. was rated higher on its development and operating proposals and its qualifications to build and run the facility.