Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Eye On Boise

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.

FBI investigating Idaho's only private prison
By REBECCA BOONE, Associated Press

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho prison officials say they are cooperating with federal investigators looking into possible criminal misconduct on the part of guards and staff at the state's only privately run prison.

Wendy Olson, the U.S. Attorney in Idaho, confirmed Tuesday the Department of Justice has been investigating the conduct of prison staff at the Idaho Correctional Center and their role in the high rate of inmate-on-inmate violence at a facility known by inmates as "Gladiator School."

Olson said FBI agents are focusing on whether ICC staff have violated the civil rights of inmates at the prison, operated by the Nashville, Tenn.-based Corrections Corporation of America under a contract with the state.

Idaho Department of Correction Director Brent Reinke said Tuesday his agency is concerned about the safety of ICC inmates and holding prison staff accountable for conduct that threatens the welfare of inmates assigned to the state's biggest lockup.

"Safety and accountability are at the core of IDOC's mission," Reinke said in a statement. "That is not limited to the safety of staff and the accountability of offenders. We also expect offenders to be safe while incarcerated and correctional professionals to be held accountable when necessary."

Olson confirmed the FBI inquiry Tuesday after The Associated Press published a story and surveillance video of an attack on former ICC inmate Hanni Elabed. In January, Elabed was assaulted moments after prison staff reassigned him to a cellblock with inmates he previously identified as being involved in peddling contraband with a staffer. The January 2010 assault left him with brain damage and prompted his medical release from the prison.

Olson said the Elabed assault is one of several inmate-on-inmate assaults under review by the FBI.

CCA spokesman Steve Owen said the company is also cooperating with federal agents.

"It has been, and continues to be, CCA's policy to cooperate fully with law enforcement agencies and other governmental authorities in their oversight of correction and detention facilities," Owen said in an e-mail to the AP.

Federal law makes it a crime for any person acting in a law enforcement capacity to intentionally or willfully violate the constitutional rights of another person, or in this case inmates. The statute is often used to prosecute misconduct cases for police officers, but also applies to prison staff, Olson said.

Olson provided no timetable for concluding the investigation or the next step for attorneys in the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division.

She also said the investigation is focused solely on the Idaho prison and not any of the other prisons operated across the country by CCA.

Elabed sued CCA in federal courts over his attack, contending guards knew he was a target for violence when they placed him back in his former cellblock. Within minutes of his return, Elabed was brutally attacked by one inmate while guards watched and waited several minutes before entering the block and apprehending the assailant. Elabed's attorneys have reached a tentative settlement with the company.

But dozens of other current and former inmates at ICC have made similar claims against the prison staff and administrators. Some are being represented by attorneys with the American Civil Liberties Union in what could be a class action lawsuit against the company.

Idaho pays CCA more than $27 million a year to run the prison under a contract renewed in two years ago.

Jon Hanian, spokesman for Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter, declined to comment, citing the ongoing investigation.

The prisoners in that lawsuit claim CCA uses inmate-on-inmate violence as a management tool — forcing them to snitch on their cellmates or risk being moved to extremely violent units — and that the company denies injured prisoners medical care as a way of covering up the violence.

State officials have long been aware of allegations of mistreatment, poor management and contract violations at ICC. A review of hundreds of public records by The Associated Press found in 2008 that ICC had a violence rate three times higher than other Idaho prisons.

State inspectors also said that some crimes against inmates that could qualify as felonies were not reported to local law enforcement agencies as required under the contract with the state.

A follow-up investigation by the AP in 2009 found that the rate of violence among inmates had only marginally improved.


Associated Press writer Todd Dvorak in Boise contributed to this report.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

Follow Betsy online: