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Thursday, April 9, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Eye On Boise

Attorney to jurors: ‘Follow the money’ in Idaho private prison ‘ghost workers’ lawsuit

By Rebecca Boone, Associated Press

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Jurors heard opening arguments Monday in a lawsuit brought by former inmates against the nation's largest private prison company, CoreCivic, formerly called Corrections Corporation of America.

"When you choose to do a dangerous job, you must do it right," said Thomas J. Angstman, the attorney representing the former inmates. His clients contend CCA purposely understaffed the Idaho prison in an effort to boost profits in what they dubbed a "ghost worker" scheme, and that the understaffing led to a brutal attack in which they were stabbed and beaten by members of a prison gang.

One inmate was stabbed several times in the neck and head during the attack, Angstman said, and another was stabbed through his hand and into his eye as he tried to deflect the weapon.

He said company officials, including the vice president, knew that the understaffing was compromising safety of inmates and staff, and that the understaffing meant the prison was often in violation of its $29 million annual contract with the state of Idaho. But it was also the quickest way to reduce expenses, and top managers were given huge bonuses based on cost savings.

"If you follow the money, you're going to see what motivated the conduct in this case," he said. "CCA, the facts will show, didn't support the people on the front lines, didn't provide the resources they needed though they told them over and over."

CoreCivic has vigorously denied the inmates' claims. The company's attorney, Dan Struck, told jurors that the inmates weren't hurt that badly in the surprise attack, and that they could have hidden in their cells but instead wanted to fight the rival prison gang. He said the unit housing the inmates was actually staffed by more employees than was required under CCA's contract with Idaho on the day of the attack.

"The evidence will be that the plaintiffs' understaffing claim is a complete red herring -- it doesn't have anything to do with this case," Struck said.

The trial is expected to last about eight days.

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.

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