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Two Dem lawmakers call for end to state contract with CCA lockup in Colorado

Two Democratic state representatives are calling on the state Board of Correction to end a $4.5 million annual deal to house 226 Idaho prison inmates in a Colorado private prison operated by Corrections Corp. of America, saying, “We believe the department needs to develop and implement a plan to completely get out of the private prison business. … This should end.”

Reps. Mat Erpelding and John Gannon, both Boise Democrats, sent a letter to the board dated yesterday, citing the just-concluded FBI investigation into Idaho’s troubled deal with CCA to run the state’s largest state prison; the state took back over operation of the Idaho Correctional Center last July. After a 15-month investigation, federal prosecutors declined to file any criminal charges, but found numerous miscommunications and other problems surrounding the deal, in which CCA understaffed the prison at which inmate violence led to numerous lawsuits.

“Clearly the private prison experiment has failed in Idaho,” the two lawmakers wrote. They also cited an Idaho attorney general’s opinion from 2013 that before the Board of Correction contracts with private prison contractors, it must determine whether suitable state facilities are available. The two said they plan to “vigorously pursue” legislation next year to block future use of private prisons. You can read the full letter here. AP reporter Rebecca Boone has a full report here.

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." 

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 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.

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.

Inmates claim private prison falsifies staffing levels

BOISE (AP) — Attorneys for inmates at Idaho's largest private prison say Corrections Corporation of America is falsifying staff logs to hide chronic understaffing.

The allegation was raised Friday in an amended lawsuit filed in Boise's U.S. District Court.

Attorneys for the Nashville, Tenn.-based CCA have not yet responded to the amended lawsuit in court, and CCA spokesman Steve Owen said he couldn't discuss details of the litigation.

But Owen said the company's top priority was the safety of its staff, inmates and the communities it serves, and CCA is committed to providing Idaho's taxpayers with the highest quality corrections services.

"We have worked in close partnership with the Idaho Department of Corrections for more than a decade and in a reflection of the strength of that partnership, the state announced in July that it would expand its contract with our company to house up to 800 additional inmates," Owen wrote in an email to The Associated Press.

Idaho Department of Correction Director Brent Reinke and the department's deputy chief of the contract services bureau, Pat Donaldson, both said they've seen no evidence of falsified staff reports. IDOC's contract monitors routinely review the staffing logs and overtime reports supplied by CCA and so far they've found nothing amiss, Donaldson said. A few months ago the department's contract monitors also began randomly checking to see if the security staffers at the Idaho Correctional Center matched those listed on the shift logs, and no discrepancies have been found, Donaldson said.

CCA runs the prison south of Boise under a contract with the state and that contract sets the minimum staffing requirements at the facility. In 2011, CCA agreed to increase the number of correctional officers working at the prison as part of a settlement agreement that ended another federal lawsuit alleging understaffing and rampant violence at the facility.

(Read the rest of this story by clicking to see the full post)

Idaho poised to send 450 inmates in next year to private CCA lockup in Colorado

Idaho's state Department of Correction has selected a private prison in Colorado run by Corrections Corp. of America to take overflow Idaho inmates in the next year - and expects to have 450 Idaho inmates there by this time next year. "Idaho's inmate population is 8,099 and has grown by more than 500 inmates since the fiscal year began on July 1, 2011," the department reported in a news release. "Idaho is managing its prisons at capacity and also houses more than 800 inmates in county jails statewide." Click below for the department's full announcement.

New research: Private prisons don’t save states money, actually cost more

The New York Times reports today that new research in Arizona and elsewhere shows private prisons don't save states money - they actually cost more. That's in part because the private lockups "cherry pick" the healthiest, least expensive inmates to house, leaving states to deal with the more costly portions of their prison population. “There’s a perception that the private sector is always going to do it more efficiently and less costly,” Russ Van Vleet, a former co-director of the University of Utah Criminal Justice Center, told Times reporter Richard A. Oppel Jr. “But there really isn’t much out there that says that’s correct.” You can real Oppel's full story here.

Idaho prisons chief: ‘We do have gangs, and they are a problem’

Brent Reinke, Idaho state prisons chief, as he opened his presentation to the Associated Taxpayers of Idaho today, said Idahoans may be wondering, “What about this violence story? What’s happening here?” He said he’d be glad to speak with any legislator who’s been contacted by constituents with concerns about family members housed at the Idaho Correctional Center, the privately operated state prison south of Boise, where a brutal inmate-on-inmate attack - while guards watched - was shown in a video released by the Associated Press yesterday.

Reinke said he “won’t go into detail today to explain to you all” the issues about the private prison. But, he said, “I’m very confident and very comfortable with our new warden in that facility, and things are progressing. We are doing a much better job of monitoring than we have in the past; we have a new contract.” He added, “In the Department of Corrections, 80 percent of our problems are bought forth by 20 percent of our population. We do have gangs, and they are a problem.”

FBI investigating Idaho’s private prison

Associated Press reporter Rebecca Boone reports that the FBI is investigating Idaho’s private-run state prison. Here’s her report:  BOISE, Idaho (AP) — U.S. Attorney Wendy Olson says the U.S. Department of Justice is looking into allegations of criminal conduct among the staff at Idaho’s only private prison. The inquiry by the Federal Bureau of Investigation is focused on the conduct by prison staff at the Idaho Correctional Center south of Boise. The lockup is run by Corrections Corporation of America, the nation’s largest private prison operator. Olson told the Associated Press Tuesday the investigation is focused on whether prison staff violated the civil rights of inmates at the prison. She said the investigation covers multiple assaults between inmates, including one attack on former inmate Hanni Elabed. His January 2010 assault left him with brain damage and prompted his medical release from prison. Click below to read Boone’s full story.

Idaho private prison has Norovirus outbreak

Idaho’s privately operated prison south of Boise, the Idaho Correctional Center, has confirmed that inmates there have contracted the Norovirus, after a flurry of stomach flu was reported there. The facility has been washed down with bleach and inmates are on lockdown; click below to read the full press release from Corrections Corporation of America, the company that runs the prison.