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Idaho prison operator, inmate settle suit over violence, neglect

BOISE – An inmate who sued a privately run Idaho prison over allegations of extreme violence and medical neglect has reached a settlement with the operator, Corrections Corp. of America.

Meanwhile, dozens of other inmates who also sued Nashville, Tenn.-based CCA in federal court are in settlement talks with the company, possibly ending their potential class-action case by the end of the week.

Marlin Riggs and the other inmates claimed the Idaho Correctional Center south of Boise was so violent that it’s called “Gladiator School,” and that guards used inmate-on-inmate violence as a management tool and then denied injured prisoners adequate medical care.

The settlement between Riggs and CCA was filed under seal in Boise’s U.S. District Court on Monday, and both sides reached a confidentiality agreement, so the terms weren’t available. Before the settlement, Riggs was seeking $55 million in damages.

Neither Riggs’ attorney, James Huegli, nor CCA spokesman Steve Owens immediately returned messages from the Associated Press seeking comment. A CCA spokeswoman at the Idaho Correctional Center referred all calls to Owens.

Riggs filed his lawsuit in 2009, saying that CCA’s prison guards failed to protect him from violence at the hands of other inmates even though he told the guards he was about to be attacked. He also contended that after the attack, CCA employees failed to treat his injuries adequately.

Several other inmates at the prison filed similar lawsuits in federal court around the same time, and a judge decided to consolidate them into one case. The American Civil Liberties Union took on the task of representing the inmates in the consolidated lawsuit, and they asked for class-action status on behalf of everyone at the lockup.

CCA has denied all of the allegations in the lawsuit, saying that the Idaho prison is run in accordance with state and federal standards.

In the joint lawsuit, Riggs originally asked for $155 million – the total net income that CCA reported for 2009 – and the rest of the inmates asked the court to order CCA to take steps to reduce the violence at the prison. Once Riggs’ case was split from the other prisoners’ claims, however, he changed his request for damages to $55 million. The rest of the inmates still aren’t asking for money from the company, just for changes in the way CCA runs the lockup.

Just before Riggs and CCA began settlement talks, U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge tossed out Riggs’ claim of inadequate medical care, saying he had failed to take all the steps required by the prison’s formal complaint policy before taking the matter to the courts.

In his lawsuit, Riggs, 48, said he was “one of the scores of prisoners brutally assaulted as a result of defendants’ deliberate indifference to prisoner safety.”