BOISE – A federal judge said private prison company Corrections Corporation of America is in contempt of court for persistently understaffing an Idaho prison in direct violation of a legal settlement.
U.S. District Judge David Carter made the ruling Monday in a lawsuit between inmates at the CCA-run Idaho Correctional Center and the Nashville, Tenn.-based company.
Carter wrote that CCA had ample reason to make sure it was meeting the staffing requirements at the prison, yet the level of understaffing was apparently far worse than the company originally acknowledged. He is appointing an independent monitor to oversee staffing at the prison, and said steep fines – starting at $100 an hour – will incur if the company violates the agreement again.
The judge also rejected CCA’s contention that the former warden and other company officials didn’t know about the understaffing, saying they had been warned of the staffing problems multiple times and at the very least failed to check it out.
“For CCA staff to lie on so basic a point – whether an officer is actually at a post – leaves the Court with serious concerns about compliance in other respects, such as whether every violent incident is reported,” Carter wrote.
The American Civil Liberties Union sued on behalf of inmates at ICC in 2010, contending that the prison was so violent inmates dubbed it “Gladiator School.” CCA denied the allegations but reached a settlement that required increased staffing levels and other operational changes.
That settlement was set to expire this month, but the ACLU asked the judge to extend it and find CCA in contempt for failing to abide by the agreement.
CCA acknowledged earlier this year that its employees filed reports with the state that falsely showed 4,800 hours of vacant security posts as being staffed during 2012. But during the contempt of court hearing, witnesses revealed that number only included the night shift during a seven-month span.
The Idaho State Police is investigating whether CCA committed any crimes when it gave the false staffing reports to the Idaho Department of Correction and when it failed to meet the minimum staffing requirements under its $29 million contract with the state.
CCA spokesman Steven Owen said in a prepared statement that the company was reviewing the ruling and considering its next steps.