October 15, 1997 in Nation/World

Audit Finds Concerns At Prison Review Of Private Facility Follows Escape Of Inmates

By The Spokesman-Review
 

A warden who’s only on duty two days a week, inadequate staff training, use of pepper spray by guards and substandard conditions in segregation cells where inmates are sent for disciplinary violations.

Those are among the findings of an audit by the Idaho Department of Correction of the Basile Detention Center, a private prison in Louisiana where 300 Idaho inmates are being held. The audit came as Basile prepares to send 100 inmates back to Idaho in response to concerns raised by the local district attorney.

The audit also points to changes for the better. Medical care is up to standard. Food has improved. Privacy screens are in place around toilets and showers, programs have improved and more inmates have jobs.

“I think the audit points out some areas of concern,” said Idaho Correction Director Jim Spalding. “I felt it was a pretty good audit.”

The audit follows the escape on Sept. 25 of five Idaho inmates, one of whom still hasn’t been recaptured. The escapees included two murderers and a rapist. Evangeline Parish District Attorney Brent Coreil is investigating Basile, saying he believes the center should be housing only nonviolent offenders.

Patrick LeBlanc, one of the owners of Louisiana Correctional Services Inc., said Tuesday he thinks the return of the 100 inmates should address Coreil’s concerns.

LeBlanc said inmate complaints about conditions at Basile are overblown. “I wish people would quit believing all the horror stories,” he said. “Our facility is top-notch, it’s state-of-the-art, it’s sanitary, it’s clean, it’s safe.”

About 100 Idaho inmates rioted at Basile in July, causing up to $35,000 in damage. Now, 22 Idaho inmates face rioting charges there.

The audit, still in draft form, was sent to LeBlanc on Friday.

“It’s up to them now to respond to the audit,” Spalding said. “All indications are that they’ve been just bending over backwards trying to get things squared away.”

Spalding’s comments came after the state Board of Correction on Tuesday approved a lease with the state Building Authority for 630 acres of state land south of Boise. That’s a step toward building a large private prison that corrections officials say will allow Idaho to bring home the 748 inmates now housed out of state.

Corrections Corp. of America hopes to open the prison by July 1999.

LeBlanc said Tuesday the Basile center already has addressed some of the concerns raised in the audit. He disputed others. Staff training classes are in progress, he said. The prison’s manuals are being updated.

“We’ve worked very hard to accommodate the Idaho people,” LeBlanc said. “The Idaho contract calls for some additional items that were not the norm for our type of operation in the past, and we’ve had to move very quickly to get up to speed on it.”

Spalding said Basile has improved in a number of areas, including adding programs and decreasing the use of force.

When Idaho inmates arrived at Basile in July, “My understanding is there was fairly extensive use of pepper spray,” Spalding said. “We, after the riot, notified them that we were concerned about that. They responded with a use-of-force policy.”

Spalding said he’s been told pepper spray hasn’t been used on inmates “with maybe one exception since the riot.”

The audit’s findings included:

Warden Richard Wall is on duty only two days a week, and on call otherwise. LeBlanc said the deputy warden for security works six days a week and lives within two miles of the prison, and another deputy warden works five days a week. He said Wall comes in “a minimum of three times a week.”

Security could be improved with more fencing and a perimeter patrol when inmates are in the prison yard. LeBlanc said fencing has been added and a new four-wheel drive vehicle allows an armed guard to patrol the perimeter.

Inmates sent to segregation cells, known in prison lingo as “the hole,” aren’t given the minimum one hour a day of out-of-cell time or allowed telephone access or visitors. The audit also said windows are painted over and the segregation cells are cold. LeBlanc said only segregation cells used for a few hours have painted-over windows; those used longer all have natural light.

Inmates aren’t getting the minimum five hours a day out-of-dorm activity time. Instead, the number is between 3.5 and 4.5 hours. The warden cited security risks for the difference, the audit said.

72 of the required 89 jobs for Idaho inmates have been filled. According to the audit, security problems have prevented filling the remaining jobs.

Inmates’ security classifications should be reviewed after major disciplinary actions. Some serious incidents have changed the level of risk certain inmates pose to the institution, the audit said.

The audit suggests separating minimum- and medium-security inmates. LeBlanc said he didn’t think that was necessary.

Coreil has suggested that the Idaho inmates don’t fit those standards, and that some may have been considered maximum-security in Idaho before they were sent to Louisiana.

Spalding said, “There may have been a few, very few.” But he added that all inmates sent to Louisiana were approved by the company.

“They knew what they were getting,” he said. “They approved them.”

, DataTimes MEMO: Cut in Spokane edition

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