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Eye On Boise

Class-action prison violence lawsuit can proceed

A federal judge has ruled that a class-action lawsuit over violence at Idaho's privately-operated state prison, the Idaho Correctional Center, can proceed, after the prison's operator, Corrections Corp. of America, tried to stop the case from expanding beyond the first named victim. U.S. District Judge Lynn Winmill ruled that amending the case to include other inmates was a more efficient way to deal with the claims rather than bringing 24 or more individual lawsuits; click below to read the full story from AP reporter Rebecca Boone.

Fed. court: 'Gladiator prison' suit can continue
By REBECCA BOONE, Associated Press Writer

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A prison violence lawsuit brought by 24 inmates at Idaho's only private prison against Corrections Corporation of America can move forward in court, despite objections from the company, a federal judge said.

U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill said in a ruling handed down Wednesday that he could find no reason to prevent former Idaho Correctional Center inmate Marlin Riggs and his attorneys from modifying their lawsuit to seek class-action status and add additional plaintiffs.

Inmates have said the prison is so violent that it's known as "gladiator school" and that guards deliberately expose prisoners to brutal beatings from other inmates, then deny them adequate medical care in an attempt to cover up the extent of inmates' injuries.

Riggs sued the Nashville, Tenn., company last year. After the case was filed, the ACLU agreed to represent Riggs and filed an amended complaint in March, adding nearly two dozen other inmates and asking for class action status.

But Corrections Corporation of America asked the federal court to reject the amended lawsuit, saying Riggs had overstepped the limits set by the court when it agreed to appoint him attorneys to help him on the case. The company also contended that the changes to the lawsuit made it unduly prejudicial, putting CCA at an unfair disadvantage in court.

Winmill said that wasn't the case. In fact, Winmill wrote, amending the case to include other inmates was a more efficient way to deal with the claims rather than bringing 24 or more individual lawsuits.

The lawsuit asks that Riggs be awarded $155 million in damages — the entire net profit of the Corrections Corporation of America for 2009. Riggs and the rest of the inmates are also seeking injunctive damages, asking the court to declare that the private prison company, and state prison officials have violated and ignored their duties to protect the inmates from unnecessary and preventable assaults.

The inmates also want the judge to order the company to take reasonable steps to ensure that prisoners at ICC will be protected from assaults by other inmates, to increase training, oversight and investigations into assaults, and to take other measures to improve management practices at the prison.

Winmill outlined the likely progression of the case if it goes to trial, saying that Riggs — the only plaintiff seeking cash damages — could present his case to the jury first, including only the evidence relevant to his claims.

The jury could render a verdict on Riggs' damages claims, and then the court could allow the class plaintiffs and the defendants to submit additional evidence that relates to the remaining requests for injunctive relief.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.

Eye On Boise

News, happenings and more from the Idaho Legislature and the state capital.