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Fact Check: CCA and the governor’s debate

In last night’s heated debate between the three leading candidates for governor of Idaho, there was much back-and-forth over the Corrections Corporation of America and the state’s $1 million settlement with the firm for understaffing the state’s largest prison and over-billing the state. Here’s a fact-check on some of the disputed points the candidates raised:

SETTLEMENT AMOUNT: Gov. Butch Otter said the settlement was for $1.3 million, not $1 million. You can see the settlement here. On Page 1 of the nine-page settlement, under “Release and Discharge,” it says, “In consideration of the sum of ONE MILLION DOLLARS AND 00/100 ($1,000,000), paid by CCA, the receipt and sufficiency of which Releasor acknowledges … Releasor does hereby fully, forever, irrevocably, and unconditionally release, acquit, and forever discharge Releasee from any and all claims … of any kind, whether known or unknown, suspected or unsuspected … arising out of the staffing of the ICC and existing on or before the date of this Settlement Agreement.”

Asked about the $1 million settlement during the debate, Otter said, “No, that was not the amount. … It was well in excess of a million dollars. … In fact, there was a bill outstanding for over $300,000 that was also part of the final negotiations.”

On Feb. 4, 2014, the Idaho State Department of Correction and CCA issued a joint statement announcing the $1 million settlement. “CCA will pay $1 million in compensation to the State of Idaho,” the joint statement said. “Additionally, the State of Idaho has denied CCA an annual inflationary increase in the amount of approximately $350,000.”

BOTTOM LINE: That denial of the inflationary increase isn’t mentioned in the signed settlement, though it may have been a part of the negotiations.

 “OFF THE HOOK”: A.J. Balukoff, the Democratic candidate for the governor, said during the debate, “The governor just admitted he doesn’t know if $1.3 million was a fair settlement or not. It seems like it’s prudent to do the investigation and understand what went on before you let a company off the hook.”

Otter responded, “A.J. knows different. A.J. knows if he’s done his homework, he knows that that contract is not final. That negotiation is not final. … If the FBI comes up with something, then all bets are off.”

“No, they’re not,” Balukoff responded. Otter said, “The criminal can go forward for anything else that’s found out.” Balukoff said, “That agreement and forgiveness of civil penalties does not go away.” Otter snapped back, “That’s not true.”

Balukoff said, “They can go after the people that have committed crimes, they can go after them for criminal, but the settlement for civil damages exonerated them for whatever other damages may be discovered.”

BOTTOM LINE: The exact wording from the settlement is, “The Parties desire to finally and fully resolve all disputed claims arising out of the staffing discrepancies.”

As I reported on Oct. 17, the settlement agreement itself says all civil claims are settled over the staffing issues, and doesn’t discuss criminal liability. In response to a public records request, the governor’s office provided a Feb. 17, 2014 email exchange between Mark Warbis, a top aide to Otter, and Mark Kubinski, lead deputy attorney general for the Idaho Department of Correction, on that question.

Warbis writes, “Does this release and discharge apply only to civil claims, or could this potentially block the pursuit of criminal claims should they emerge?” Kubinski responds, “The release section only applies to civil claims. The signatories are Division of Purchasing, IDOC and the Board, none of whom have any authority to waive any potential criminal charges. I’m comfortable with the language as drafted.”

 “CONTRACT IS OPENED UP”: During the debate, Libertarian candidate John Bujak said, “I have a little more information as a lawyer, I’ve seen some of the litigation that’s gone through the federal courts related to what was going on there due to the lack of supervision. The state has been exposed to the liability through the lack of supervision to a greater degree. I think the settlement was premature. I don’t think that number was a good number, and I would have liked to see more investigation before any kind of settlement was struck regarding the private prison.”

Otter responded, “A good lawyer would have read the entire contract on the negotiation, and would have found out that at the end, new information on a new subject, the whole contract is opened up. That’s in the contract, John.”

Bujak responded,”As a civil lawyer, whenever you settle a civil case you don't leave open-ended liability. The whole notion is it's risk management. Now, maybe they can be opened up to some additional liability in the criminal context, but there’s no additional civil liability that can be imposed under that contract. That civil liability was simply put to bed for a million bucks.”

Otter retorted, “Not true.”

BOTTOM LINE: There is no provision at the end of the nine-page settlement that matches Otter’s description. Prior to its signatures, it ends with this clause on Page 5: “Effectiveness. This Settlement Agreement shall become effective upon the date of execution by the last Party to execute the Settlement Agreement.”

AdWatch: Otter hits back at Balukoff, defends handling of prison scandal

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter has launched a new TV ad striking back at Democratic challenger A.J. Balukoff, and defending Otter’s handling of a prison scandal. It’s the first time that Otter’s campaign has directly mentioned Balukoff in one of its ads, though two outside groups have been running ads attacking Balukoff and trying to tie him to President Barack Obama.

“This may be as good of evidence as we have that this may be a closer race than at least one or two polls have indicated recently,” said Jim Weatherby, Boise State University professor emeritus and a longtime observer of Idaho politics. He noted that Otter’s name recognition in the state, as a two-term governor, is close to 100 percent, while Balukoff came into the race virtually unknown outside the Boise area. That would normally prompt a well-known incumbent to avoid giving a little-known challenger any free publicity.

Balukoff, a Boise businessman, is the longtime chairman of the Boise school board; Otter served three terms in Congress and 14 years as lieutenant governor before becoming governor.

Otter’s ad is a direct response to a new commercial Balukoff launched last weekend criticizing Otter’s handling of the state’s troubled contract with private prison firm Corrections Corporation of America; both ads are running statewide, including in the Spokane broadcast TV market. CCA, which until July 1 was being paid $29 million a year to operate the state’s largest prison, was at the center of multiple lawsuits, reports of violence so intense that the prison was dubbed “Gladiator School,” and evidence that CCA had fraudulently overbilled the state for thousands of hours of guard duty that were never worked. In early February, the state dropped all claims against CCA in the staffing dispute in exchange for a $1 million payment.

Weatherby said, “I think the question a lot of viewers might have is: What was dishonest in the Balukoff ad? What are they specifically objecting to? And it’s not clear in this ad.” Balukoff’s ad called the settlement with CCA a “sweetheart deal.” Otter's ad doesn't mention the settlement. You can read my full AdWatch story here, along with links to both ads.

Otter met with CCA officials about understaffing issue in 2013, before recusing himself

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter, who said in two recent debates against challenger A.J. Balukoff that he “recused” himself from settlement talks with the Corrections Corporation of America over understaffing and falsified staffing records at an Idaho state prison because he’d received campaign contributions from the firm - $20,000 since 2003 – participated in meetings with CCA about the issue as recently as 2013, the Idaho Statesman reports today. Reporter Rocky Barker and Cynthia Sewell report that Otter’s former chief of staff, Jason Kreizenbeck, now a lobbyist for CCA, brought the company’s CEO, Damon Hininger, and other CCA executives to Otter’s office on May 28, 2013 to discuss the company’s state contract and the staffing issue.

Mark Warbis, Otter’s communications director, said CCA officials asked for the meeting to apologize for the understaffing and fraudulent billing that later led to a $1 million settlement with the state, and to ask about extending their contract to run Idaho’s largest state prison. “The governor responded that our intention instead was to consider putting the contract out to bid,” Warbis told the Statesman. The newspaper’s full report is online here.

Warbis told the Statesman that Otter recused himself from settlement talks when formal talks started in 2014. CCA had offered to settle the matter with the state for $170,000 prior to the May 2013 meeting, Warbis said. During the meeting, he said, “CCA might have mentioned that offer, but there was no additional discussion of it.”

Last night, Otter’s campaign launched a new TV ad responding to an ad from Balukoff critical of Otter’s handling of the CCA issue; I’ll have a full AdWatch story later today examining Otter’s new ad.

AdWatch: Gloves come off in guv’s race, with ad rapping Otter over prison scandal

The gloves have come off in Idaho’s governor’s race, with Democratic challenger A.J. Balukoff launching a hard-hitting new ad faulting GOP Gov. Butch Otter’s handling of a scandal involving the state’s largest prison. You can read my full AdWatch story here at spokesman.com; and watch the commercial here; it’s running statewide, including in the Spokane broadcast TV market.

Idaho took over operation of the Idaho Correctional Center this year from private operator Corrections Corporation of America, after multiple lawsuits, reports of violence so intense that the prison was dubbed “Gladiator School,” and evidence that CCA had fraudulently overbilled the state for thousands of hours of guard duty that never were worked.

Otter, an advocate of privatization, made the announcement reluctantly on Jan. 3; on Feb. 4, he announced a settlement in which the state dropped all claims against CCA in the staffing dispute in exchange for a $1 million payment. At the time, the state had been saying for a year that the Idaho State Police was conducting a criminal investigation, but it turned out no investigation ever had been launched. Otter said then that the ISP had determined none was needed; two weeks later, after meeting with Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, Otter reversed his stance and called for a criminal investigation by ISP. In March, the FBI stepped in.

“It fails the smell test badly,” Balukoff said, “and we have to wonder what more will come out when the FBI wraps up its ongoing investigation of this debacle.”

The ad includes actual footage of inmate violence at the prison, notes that CCA is a  major campaign contributor to Otter – the firm has donated $20,000 to his campaigns since 2003 – and calls the settlement a “sweetheart deal.” Jim Weatherby, Boise State University professor emeritus and a longtime observer of Idaho politics, said the ad – the first time Balukoff’s gone negative – could be a “turning point” in the governor’s race.

Records show ISP cited conflict of interest when it handed over CCA investigation to FBI

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Public records show an Idaho State Police investigation into staffing problems at a private prison was handed over to the FBI after police detectives determined their agency could have a conflict of interest in the case. The apparent conflict of interest wasn't revealed earlier this year, when the state first announced the FBI would be investigating whether fraud or other crimes occurred when Corrections Corporation of America understaffed Idaho's largest prison in violation of its $29-million-a-year contract. The records were among hundreds of documents obtained through public records requests by a campaign staffer for A.J. Balukoff, a Democrat who is challenging Republican incumbent Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter for the governor's seat. Balukoff's campaign spokesman, Mike Lanza, said Balukoff thought it was important for the public to find out more about how the state handled the investigation into understaffing at a prison run by Corrections Corporation of America.

Click below for a full report from AP reporter Rebecca Boone.

What the CCA settlement actually said and didn’t say about civil, criminal liability…

After Gov. Butch Otter said in two recent debates against Democratic challenger A.J. Balukoff that the $1 million settlement the state signed with Corrections Corp. of America over fraudulent billing and understaffing at the state’s largest prison can be “set aside and then we can go after CCA” if the FBI’s investigation turns up anything, I filed a public records request for the provision in the settlement agreement that says that. Here’s what I received: The 9-page Settlement Agreement and Release, which talks about how all claims, past or future, discovered or undiscovered, are settled by the $1 million payment; and a series of emails here.

In the emails, Otter aide Mark Warbis inquires of state Corrections Department officials about this very question. “David (Hensley, Otter’s chief of staff) has a question about the ‘Release and Discharge’ section at the bottom of Page 1,” Warbis writes. “Does this release and discharge apply only to civil claims, or could this potentially block the pursuit of criminal claims should they emerge?”

Mark Kubinski, lead deputy attorney general for the Idaho Department of Correction, responds, “The release section only applies to civil claims. The signatories are Division of Purchasing, IDOC and the Board, none of whom have any authority to waive any potential criminal charges. I’m comfortable with the language as drafted.”

If I'm interpreting this correctly - and please, all you lawyers out there, chime in if I'm not - that suggests that the state could in fact “go after” CCA criminally if the FBI investigation uncovers evidence of criminal wrongdoing, but the settlement agreement would not be “set aside” and the state could not seek any additional civil penalties or damages.

Emails show Otter staff played key role in $1 million deal with big campaign contributor

In two recent political debates, Idaho Gov. Butch Otter said he recused himself from settlement talks with troubled private-prison operator Corrections Corp. of America before the state reached a $1 million settlement with the firm over fraudulent billing and understaffing; Otter said he “had nothing to do with” the settlement. But the Idaho Statesman reports today that emails obtained under the Idaho Public Records Law show Otter’s top staffers were directly involved in the negotiations with CCA, reviewed the settlement agreement before it was approved by the state Board of Correction, and urged lawmakers to support it. The Statesman’s full story, by reporters Rocky Barker and Cynthia Sewell, is online here.

Jon Hanian, Otter’s press secretary, told the Statesman that Otter meant he personally didn’t participate, and he wasn’t saying his staff didn’t. “Decision-making authority on the settlement itself resided with the (Corrections) Board/Department,” Hanian said. The emails document involvement in the deal by Otter's chief of staff, David Hensley; chief counsel, Tom Perry; and communications director and liaison to corrections Mark Warbis. In one email to state lawmakers, Warbis wrote, “The Governor's office believes the proposal accomplishes our goals of certainty, closure and fairness to taxpayers. It helps us to move forward with the transition to State control of the ICC in an amicable manner.”

During the City Club of Idaho Falls debate on Oct. 9, Otter said, “I personally did not involve myself in the negotiations of the settlement with CCA because I had received money from CCA for my campaign. So I recused myself and let the professionals make that decision. I did not.” The Statesman reports that Otter has received $20,000 in campaign contributions from CCA since 2003.

State: Prison takeover had ‘challenges’

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho prison officials say they had to have thousands of dollars' worth of medications shipped overnight to the state's largest prison after the former operator, Corrections Corporation of America, left the facility without a promised 8-day supply of inmate medications. IDOC officials also say they discovered that some chronically ill inmates went without needed medical care and that some records were missing when they assumed control of the prison last month. But CCA officials say those claims are without merit and don't match the condition of the facility CCA handed over to the state. CCA spokesman Steve Owens also says no one from the Idaho Department of Correction has contacted the Nashville, Tennessee-based company to communicate any concerns. The IDOC Board will discuss the issue during a meeting on Wednesday.

UPDATE: On July 30, the state revised its estimates downward. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Rebecca Boone.

State takeover of troubled Idaho private prison now under way

As of this week, Idaho's largest prison is now under state control, as Idaho takes it over from the private prison firm Corrections Corp. of America, which built and operated the lockup south of Boise for the state throughout its troubled 14-year history. “To reflect the change in status from private to state operations, the name of the facility becomes the Idaho State Correctional Center (ISCC),” the state Department of Corrections announced. Click below for a report from AP reporter Kimberlee Kruesi, who notes that the takeover marks the end of a big experiment with privatizing Idaho's public prisons despite multiple attempts from Gov. Butch Otter to push for more privatization. In 2008, Otter unsuccessfully pitched legislation that would allow private companies to build and operate prisons in Idaho and import out-of-state inmates. Then in 2009, Otter suggested privatizing the 500-bed, state-run Idaho Correctional Institution-Orofino while also requesting to cut the state correctional department's budget by more than $11 million, or 12 percent.

The Department of Corrections announced that visitation at the ISCC will be canceled this week from Monday through Thursday, and will resume on Friday, “to facilitate a smooth transition.” 

Former inmate who won CCA settlement over prison violence presumed drowned

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho sheriff's deputies say a man who won a settlement from Corrections Corporation of America after he sued over prison violence is missing and believed to have drowned. The Valley County Sheriff's Office says 51-year-old Marlin Riggs may have driven his Ford F-150 pickup off a rural road and into a creek near Yellowpine sometime last weekend. The submerged pickup was found Saturday morning, but no one was inside the vehicle. Lt. Dan Smith with the sheriff's office says Riggs is presumed drowned. Riggs was part of a group of inmates who sued the private prison company, contending the Idaho Correctional Center was so violent that it was nicknamed “Gladiator School.” Riggs sought $55 million from CCA. A settlement was reached, but the terms of the agreement were sealed.

Judge: Prison understaffing lawsuit can proceed, even during FBI investigation

A federal judge says he won't put a lawsuit against a major private prison company on hold while the FBI investigates the company for possible criminal fraud charges, the AP reports. U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge made the ruling this week in a lawsuit brought by a group of Idaho inmates against the Nashville, Tenn.-based Corrections Corporation of America. The company had asked the judge to put the lawsuit on hold, contending that if its employees had to testify in the lawsuit, they could be at risk of incriminating themselves in the FBI investigation. “This is a high-profile case, and the Court has determined that the interests of the public would be frustrated if a stay were issued,” Lodge wrote. “Idaho's citizenry has a right to be informed about these serious issues of public concern.” Click below for a full report from Associated Press reporter Rebecca Boone.

FBI takes over CCA investigation

The FBI has launched a criminal investigation into private prison company Corrections Corporation of America and how it ran an Idaho state prison plagued by inmate violence, the AP reports. The Idaho State Police was asked to investigate the company last year but didn't, until amid increasing political pressure, the governor ordered the agency to do so last month. Democratic state lawmakers asked the FBI to take up the case last month. Idaho Department of Correction spokesman Jeff Ray confirmed Friday that the FBI met with department director Brent Reinke on Thursday to inform him about the investigation. Idaho State Police spokeswoman Teresa Baker said her agency was no longer involved with the investigation and the FBI has taken it over entirely. “They (the FBI) have other cases that are tied to this one so it worked out better for them to handle it from here,” Baker said; click below for a full report from AP reporter Rebecca Boone.

After meeting with Wasden, Otter orders criminal investigation of CCA for understaffing Idaho prison

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter has ordered the state police to conduct a criminal investigation of understaffing and falsified documents at a private prison operated by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). The governor made the decision Tuesday after meeting with Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden. Otter wrote in a letter to Idaho State Police Col. Ralph Powell that after reviewing the available information, including an audit completed by the forensic auditing firm KPMG, he now believed the public would benefit from a formal criminal investigation. Otter had previously supported Powell's decision not to investigate the company. CCA has operated Idaho's largest prison for more than a decade. The company acknowledged last year that CCA employees falsified documents to hide understaffing at the prison in violation of a $29 million state contract.

Click below for a full report from AP reporter Rebecca Boone.

CCA trying to get audit of understaffing declared ‘inconclusive’

Corrections Corp. of America is pushing to get a forensic audit declared inconclusive after the auditors found the private prison company understaffed an Idaho prison by more than 26,000 hours, the AP reports. This comes after the prison company agreed to pay the state more than $1 million to settle the understaffing issue; click below for a full report from AP reporter Rebecca Boone.

ISP: We never investigated CCA understaffing at prison

Idaho State Police say they didn't conduct an investigation following revelations that private prison company Corrections Corporation of America understaffed a prison and gave the state falsified documents to hide vacancies, the AP reports, and instead relied on a report from a forensic auditing firm. State officials had promised that there would be a criminal probe, but Capt. William Gardiner told The Associated Press on Wednesday that “no detective was assigned. There was no investigation.” Neither the police nor the Idaho Department of Correction asked to look at CCA's timesheet software - software that has auditing capabilities designed to catch fraud - and the police apparently didn't interview any CCA employees. A public records request sent to Idaho State Police by the AP for investigation records was denied, with the police saying no records exist; click below for a full report from AP reporter Rebecca Boone.
  

CCA to pay Idaho $1 million for understaffing privately run Idaho prison

Corrections Corporation of America will pay Idaho $1 million for understaffing the state's largest prison in violation of its contract, the AP reports, according to a settlement agreement announced late Tuesday. The Nashville, Tenn.-based CCA acknowledged last year that its employees falsified staffing records given to the state, making it look as though thousands of hours of mandatory guard posts were filled when they were actually left vacant for months. The vacant posts and phony records violated not only CCA's $29-million annual contract to run the Idaho Correctional Center, but also a federal settlement agreement reached with inmates who sued claiming the understaffing led to rampant violence.

“While the $1 million payment does not reflect a specific number of hours, due to the complexity of the issue it was determined by IDOC officials to reasonably cover the State's costs related to the staffing matter,” IDOC and CCA wrote in a joint statement. “The agreement also fulfills CCA's commitment to make taxpayers whole on the issue.” Click below for a full report from AP reporter Rebecca Boone.

Private prison workers sue CCA over safety issues

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Three current workers and one former worker at Idaho's largest private prison are suing their employer, Corrections Corporation of America, in state court over what they say is a dangerous work environment. Mark Eixenberger, Mandi Bravo, Mario Vasquez and Leonard King filed the lawsuit in Boise's 4th District Court on Thursday against the Nashville, Tenn.-based CCA. The workers contend they sustained severe emotional distress and in one case, physical injuries, because they were put to work at the Idaho Correctional Center with broken equipment and inadequate training. In the lawsuit, the workers say they had broken radio sets, empty pepper spray canisters and were often left to work without basic equipment like handcuffs. CCA has not yet responded to the lawsuit.

Shift away from private prison a dramatic turnaround for Otter, state

Click below for a full report from AP reporter Rebecca Boone on Gov. Butch Otter's announcement today that he's ordering the state Department of Correction to take over the troubled Idaho Correctional Center, the privately run state prison south of Boise; it's a dramatic turnaround both for Otter and for the state. Taxpayers currently pay CCA $29 million per year to operate the 2,080-bed prison south of Boise, which has been the subject of multiple lawsuits alleging rampant violence, understaffing, gang activity and contract fraud. CCA acknowledged last year that falsified staffing reports were given to the state showing thousands of hours were staffed by CCA workers when the positions were actually vacant.

An AP analysis of the costs to run the prison in 2012 found that any savings compared to state-run prisons were more than offset by other factors, including contract oversight costs and the fact that inmates with chronic medical or mental health needs are barred from the facility. That allows it to have a higher staff-to-inmate ratio than state lockups that take all prisoners.

Otter long has been an advocate of privatization. In 2008, he floated legislation to change state laws to allow private companies to build and operate prisons in Idaho and import out-of-state inmates. Later, he suggested privatizing the 500-bed state-run Idaho Correctional Institution-Orofino.

Otter: State can operate ICC for ‘very, very close’ to same amount CCA charged

Click below for Gov. Butch Otter's full announcement that he's ordering the state to take over operation of the Idaho Correctional Center, the troubled privately operated state prison south of Boise that's been the target of numerous lawsuits and scandals. Otter said he's been advised that it looks like the state can operate the prison for “very, very close to the $25 million” a year that the state has been paying the Corrections Corp. of America to operate the lockup.

Otter orders state to take over operation of troubled private prison

Gov. Butch Otter just announced that he’s ordering the state Board of Correction to halt its ongoing effort to get new bids from private firms to run the privately operated state prison, the Idaho Correctional Center, south of Boise, and instead move to have the state take over operating the scandal-plagued lockup. “It’s disappointing, and it’s disappointing because I am a champion of privatization,” Otter told reporters at the AP Legislative Preview. “It’s disappointing, but I think it also recognizes what has been happening, what has happened - it’s necessary. I think it’s the right thing to do. Is it the desirable thing to do for me? Not necessarily, because we had better hopes for outcomes in privatization.”

Otter said the state will move to take over operations at the ICC by June 30.

The Corrections Corp. of America, the nation’s largest private prison operator, already had announced that it would leave Idaho and not bid on another contract to run the ICC; the second-largest firm, GEO Group, also said it wasn’t interested. The ICC has had multiple lawsuits over inmate violence and was nicknamed the “Gladiator School;” CCA also was found to be understaffing the prison.

Nation’s two largest private prison firms both say ‘no thanks’ to bidding on ICC contract

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The two biggest private prison companies in the nation say they don't want the contract to run a troubled Idaho prison, and that could shrink the pool of potential bidders to just two smaller companies. GEO Group sent a letter to Idaho Department of Correction officials last month to say thanks but no thanks to the chance to bid on a contract to run the Idaho Correctional Center. Corrections Corporation of America, which currently operates the facility, has also said it won't seek a new contract when its current $29-million-a-year deal with the state expires next summer. That leaves two smaller companies in the pool of likely bidders: The Centerville, Utah-based Management and Training Corp., and Community Education Centers, which is based in West Caldwell, New Jersey.

No fed charges against ICC guards, after three-year investigation

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — After a three-year investigation into allegations of possible criminal civil rights violations at Idaho's largest private prison, the U.S. Department of Justice is declining to prosecute any current or former guards with Corrections Corporation of America. U.S. Attorney Wendy Olson made the announcement Monday, saying the FBI's investigation into inmate-on-inmate assaults at the CCA-run Idaho Correctional Center south of Boise was detailed and covered multiple incidences. Olson says that while the assaults at the prison have been problematic, prosecutors didn't believe they would be able to prove elements of a federal crime beyond a reasonable doubt. Under federal criminal civil rights law, prison guards commit a crime if they willfully fail to stop an assault or are deliberately indifferent to an inmate who is in need of medical care.

You can read the Justice Department's full announcement here. It says the investigation included an assault, captured on videotape, of inmate Hanni Elabed on January 18, 2010, in which Elabed was severely beaten by another inmate while guards watched but didn't intervene. U.S. Attorney for Idaho Wendy Olson said in the statement that various civil lawsuits brought by inmates against the CCA are “a more appropriate vehicle for addressing the assaults that the investigation examined.” Click below for a full report from AP reporter Rebecca Boone.

State prison agency knew for years about CCA staffing deficiencies

Administrators and staff at Idaho's state Department of Corrections have known since at least 2010 about staffing deficiencies by private prison contractor Corrections Corporation of America at an Idaho state prison, according to documents obtained by the Associated Press - and that the deficiencies violated CCA's contract with the state. The new details about the state's oversight of CCA come as Idaho State Police investigators are looking into allegations that the nation's largest private prison company defrauded taxpayers by filing reports that showed vacant positions were fully staffed. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Rebecca Boone.

Sixteen Dem lawmakers urge prisons board to let state run ICC, guv’s aide delivers message

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Democratic lawmakers are urging the Board of Correction to put Idaho's largest prison back under state control instead of contracting with another private prison operator. The letter signed by 16 of the Legislature's 20 Democrats was delivered Tuesday by an unexpected messenger: Republican Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter's spokesman, Mark Warbis. Warbis said there was no “hidden message” to Otter's decision to deliver the Democrats' message to the board. Instead, he said Democratic leaders approached the governor last week after they learned Otter was open to all options for running the Idaho Correctional Center. Corrections Corporation of America operates the prison for $29 million a year. The Idaho State Police is investigating CCA for possible contract fraud, and CCA has admitted understaffing ICC in violation of a federal court order.

Click below for a full report from AP reporter Rebecca Boone.

Otter now says he’s open to considering possible state takeover of troubled private prison

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter now says he’s open to ideas from legislative leaders and others on whether the state should take over running its troubled private prison, or whether a new private operator should be sought.             “I’m going to listen to other people,” Otter said. “I’m not foreclosing that discussion.”

Corrections Corp. of America, the nation’s largest private prison operator, announced last week that it will leave Idaho, and won’t submit a new bid to operate the Idaho Correctional Center south of Boise when its contract ends next summer. The state Department of Correction is developing a request for proposals for a new private operator.

“I am confident that I am not the source of all great wisdom,” Otter said. He said he wants to “hear all the ideas from JFAC and all the ideas from leadership, as to what we ought to do.” JFAC is the Legislature’s Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, which sets the state budget; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Private prison firm CCA leaving Idaho

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Private prison giant Corrections Corp. of America says it will leave Idaho after more than a decade. The decision comes after the company wrestled with scandal and lawsuits surrounding its operation of the state's largest prison. CCA Vice President Brad Regens notified state officials on Wednesday that the Nashville, Tenn.-based company won't bid on the next contract to run the Idaho Correctional Center south of Boise. The Idaho State Police, aided by a forensic auditing firm, is currently investigating the company's operations in Idaho over allegations of possible contract fraud and falsified staffing reports. CCA spokesman Steven Owen says the company is taking appropriate steps to remedy staffing problems, and the company is committed to making up for any unverified work hours.

Click below for a full report from AP reporter Rebecca Boone.

Judge says CCA persistently understaffed privately run Idaho prison

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A federal judge says 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 operations at the prison, and says steep fines will follow if the company violates the agreement again. The fines will start at $100 an hour if more than 12 hours are understaffed in a single month.

“It is clear that there was a persistent failure to fill required mandatory positions, along with a pattern of CCA staff falsifying rosters to make it appear that all posts were filled,” the judge wrote. Those deficiencies continued even in the weeks leading up to hearings in August on whether the company should be found in contempt for violating a court settlement agreement, he wrote; you can read his decision here.

Click below for a full report from AP reporter Rebecca Boone.

Judge scolds attorneys in prison lawsuit

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A federal judge is scolding attorneys in a lawsuit alleging understaffing and mismanagement at a private Idaho prison, warning both sides that they need to play nice or risk losing their case. U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge wrote in an order Wednesday that attorneys for private prison giant Corrections Corporation of America and attorneys representing a group of inmates at the CCA-run Idaho Correctional Center have refused to interact with each other reasonably and civilly. Lodge says he considered lots of ways to make them get along, but decided against ordering the attorneys to play a game of “rock, paper, scissors.” Instead, Lodge is sending them to mediation, where they must try to resolve all their pending disputes over what evidence they must share and other pretrial issues.

Bill would require Idaho to compare state, private prison costs

After Idaho’s state Board of Correction refused to consider state operation as it seeks a new operator for a troubled privately run prison south of Boise, a state lawmaker has drafted legislation requiring all state agencies to consider that option when they solicit bids. Rep. John Gannon, D-Boise, said he’s not convinced the state is saving any money by paying Corrections Corp. of America $30 million a year to operate the Idaho Correctional Center. “There is a view that private contractors can perform functions less expensively, but I think sometimes they can’t,” he said. Gannon is now circulating his proposed bill, trying to get discussion going among lawmakers.

In late June, the state Board of Correction voted to seek new bids to operate the Idaho Correctional Center starting next year, but rejected the idea of considering state operation as well. Board Chairwoman Robin Sandy said at the time that state operation would grow Idaho’s government, which she opposed. “There would be several hundred more state employees,” she said. Five years ago, the state Department of Correction sought permission from Gov. Butch Otter and the board to submit its own bid for comparison, but the board refused, and Otter deferred to the board.

His spokesman, Jon Hanian, said Wednesday that Otter’s position hasn’t changed. “The governor doesn’t seek to micromanage his agencies,” Hanian said.

Gannon drafted his bill after reviewing pay figures from other states showing that Idaho’s wages for prison guards far below those in most states; he said that shows that private prison companies can operate more cheaply in some states – but not in Idaho. House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, was non-committal Wednesday on the idea of legislation, but said, “I don’t think it’s a bad thing to bid it, to get a price from either side. … You would think that would be just a good practice.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Newly unsealed CCA documents say staffing logs falsified for years

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Several documents have been unsealed in a contempt of court case against private prison company Corrections Corporation of America that provide some detail to inmate allegations that CCA understaffed an Idaho prison in violation of a court order and a state contract. CCA has acknowledged that its employees filed reports with the state that falsely showed 4,800 hours of vacant security posts as being staffed during 2012. The company says it has taken steps to fix the problems and it will reimburse taxpayers. But inmates at the facility and the American Civil Liberties Union say that number grossly underestimates the understaffing, and that problems continue today. In one of the affidavits, CCA employee Susan Fry says it's been the practice to falsify staffing logs at the Idaho prison for years.

Click below for a full report from AP reporter Rebecca Boone.