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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Sirens & Gavels

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.

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The new lawsuit was filed in November by a group of inmates who contend CCA is working with a few powerful prison gangs to control the facility south of Boise and cut back on staffing. The attorney for the inmates, T.J. Angstman, cited an investigative report from the Idaho Department of Correction that suggested gangs like the Aryan Knights and the Severely Violent Criminals were able to wrest control from staff members after prison officials began housing members of the same gangs together in some cellblocks to reduce violent clashes.

In the amended complaint filed Friday, Angstman described a staffing scheme that the inmates claim the company is using to make it appear as if more correctional officers are on duty. The inmates contend fewer guards were on duty than were listed in the staff logs when some of them were attacked and stabbed by gang members in a brutal assault caught on the prison's security cameras.

"CCA has historically used inadequate staff to prevent or promptly stop violence against prisoners," Angstman wrote in the amended complaint. "... During the attempted murders, employees were being placed on the shift schedule who were not present within the building or who were actually working in other areas and in some cases were no longer employees of CCA. This was being done to fraudulently show the State of Idaho that ICC was fully staffed when it fact it was not and to hide culpability for the injuries suffered by the plaintiffs."

According to the lawsuit, guards at the prison usually work 12-hour shifts. The inmates contend that at the end of a shift, CCA managers would order the guards to work an additional half-hour or so of overtime, and that way their names would be on the following shift log as well, even if they only stayed for a small portion of that shift. As a result, the inmates contend in the lawsuit, some guard names are listed on the staff logs as working for 36 or even 48 hours straight.

"CCA engages in this Ghost Worker scheme in order to make an unfair profit from its contract with the State of Idaho at the expense of guards, society, and the inmates within their facilities," Angstman wrote in the amended lawsuit. "It is cheaper to hire and train less guards and pay a few hours of overtime then to hire and train a proper number of guards and pay them for the appropriate number of hours."

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