September 20, 2011 in Idaho

Idaho inmates settle prison lawsuit

Associated Press
 
AP/Charlie Litchfield photo

This June 15, 2010, file photo shows the Idaho Correctional Center south of Boise. A potential class-action lawsuit against the nation’s largest private prison company over violence at the Idaho Correctional Center has been settled in federal court.
(Full-size photo)

BOISE — A potential class-action lawsuit against the nation’s largest private prison company over allegations of violence at the Idaho Correctional Center has been settled in federal court.

The agreement between the inmates and Nashville, Tenn.-based Corrections Corporation of America was filed today in U.S. District Court in Boise.

In it, CCA doesn’t acknowledge the allegations but agrees to increase staffing, investigate all assaults and make other sweeping changes at the lockup south of Boise. If the company fails to make the changes, the inmates can ask the courts to force CCA to comply.

The inmates, represented by the ACLU, sued last year on behalf of everyone incarcerated at the CCA-run state prison. They said the prison was so violent it was dubbed “Gladiator School,” and that guards used inmate-on-inmate violence as a management tool and then denied prisoners medical care as a way to cover up the assaults.

CCA has denied all the allegations as part of the settlement, but the agreement is governed under the Prison Litigation Reform Act, which only applies in cases in which prisoners’ Constitutional rights have been violated.

As part of a prepared statement jointly written by the ACLU and CCA, both sides said that rather spending time and resources trying to litigate allegations of past problems, the groups would work toward improving future conditions at the prison. Those steps include hiring three additional correctional officers, following the standard operating procedures already set up by the Idaho Department of Correction and increasing the staffing rotation.

The agreement came after both sides spent three days in federal mediation sessions last week. Federal oversight of the settlement will last for two years.

In the lawsuit, the inmates cited an Associated Press investigation from three years ago that found the private prison had more cases of inmate-on-inmate violence than all other Idaho prisons combined.

“The unnecessary carnage and suffering that has resulted is shameful and inexcusable,” the ACLU wrote in the lawsuit. “ICC not only condones prisoner violence, the entrenched culture of ICC promotes, facilitates, and encourages it.”

While the prison is owned by the state, it is run for a profit by CCA under a contract with the Idaho Department of Corrections. The inmates claimed the company made decisions based on profit, rather than on “responsible administration of the prison.”

Under the settlement, CCA has agreed to leave more prison beds open so it can easily move threatened inmates to new cellblocks when necessary. It also agreed to report all assaults that appear to amount to aggravated battery to the Ada County Sheriff’s Office, to increase the level of training given to guards and to discipline staffers who don’t take appropriate measures to stop or prevent assaults.

“This settlement is in the best interest of our clients, CCA and the State of Idaho,” ACLU senior attorney Stephen Pevar said in the prepared statement.

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