By Prison Legal News

ON April 11, 2013, the Idaho Department of Correction
(IDOC) announced that Corrections Corporation of America, the nation’s largest
for-profit prison firm, had acknowledged that employees at the CCA-operated
Idaho Correctional Center (ICC) falsified staffing records from at least May
through November 2012. As a result, the state paid the company for almost 4,800
staffing hours for vacant positions during that time period.

Photo courtesy idoc.idaho.gov

According to a review of ICC shift logs obtained by
the Associated Press, some CCA employees were falsely listed as having worked
24, 36 and even 48 continuous hours.

In January 2013, attorneys for prisoners housed at the
ICC filed an amended complaint in federal court that alleged CCA officials had
falsified staffing records to conceal chronic understaffing. The prisoners
claimed that fewer employees were on duty at the time of prisoner-on-prisoner
assaults than the number reflected on shift logs. The lawsuit also contends
that CCA staff collaborated with ICC gang members in order to maintain control
at the facility. See: Castillon v. CCA, U.S.D.C. (D. Idaho), Case No.
1:12-cv-00559-EJL.

“[E]mployees 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,” stated T.J. Angstman,
one of the attorneys representing the prisoners. “This was being done to
fraudulently show the State of Idaho that ICC was fully staffed when in fact it
was not and to hide culpability for the injuries suffered by the plaintiffs.”

The following month, the IDOC announced that it had
asked the Idaho State Police “to review whether a criminal investigation was
warranted after discovering significant discrepancies in ICC’s staffing
records.” Idaho’s contract with CCA requires “specific staffing levels to
ensure the safe operation of the 2,060-bed prison,” according to IDOC Director
Brent D. Reinke.

In fact, CCA has a well-documented track record of
failing to ensure the safe operation of the Idaho Correctional Center. Video
footage of prisoner Hanni Elabed being viciously assaulted by another prisoner
while CCA guards watched from a control room but did not intervene made
national headlines in November 2010. CCA had objected to the release of the
videotape by the Associated Press, claiming that it posed “an unnecessary
security risk to our staff, the inmates entrusted to our care, and ultimately
to the public.”

Following the release of the video, U.S. Attorney
Wendy Olson said the FBI was investigating whether CCA employees had violated
the civil rights of ICC prisoners. Elabed filed a federal lawsuit against CCA,
which settled under confidential terms. [See: PLN, Feb. 2012, p.30].

Separately, the ACLU of Idaho pursued a class-action
suit against CCA seeking injunctive relief due to rampant violence at the ICC;
the facility was known as a “gladiator school” due to the high number of
violent incidents. The lawsuit settled in September 2011 with CCA agreeing to a
number of policy changes, including compliance with contractual staffing
levels, increasing the number of employees at the facility, investigating claims
of staff failing to protect prisoners from violence, and preparing a report on
prisoner-on-prisoner assaults. See: Kelly v. CCA, U.S.D.C. (D. Idaho), Case No.
1:11-cv-00185-EJL.

According to an August 7, 2008 report by IDOC
investigator Tim Higgins, known as the Higgins report, “Since the beginning of
2008, incidents of violence at the Idaho Correctional Center has [sic] steadily
increased to the point that there are four incidents for every one that occurs
in the rest of the Idaho state operated facilities combined” (emphasis added).

CCA designated the Higgins report “Confidential” and
“Attorneys’ eyes only” in the Kelly litigation. After Prison Legal News
obtained an unredacted copy of the Higgins report from the IDOC pursuant to a
public records request, CCA complained to state officials. As a result, a
Deputy Attorney General contacted PLN in November 2012 and requested that PLN
“promptly remove the unredacted copies [of the report] from any websites that
you have caused them to be posted….” Prison Legal News declined to remove the
full Higgins report, which remains available on PLN’s website.

With respect to its admission that ICC employees had
falsified staffing records, CCA issued a press release on April 11, 2013 saying
it would compensate the state for the vacant staff positions and “take
appropriate disciplinary action” against the ICC staff members involved. CCA
downplayed the fraudulent records, merely stating “there were some
inaccuracies.”

CCA further said “[t]he unverified hours represent a
fraction of the total staffing requirements, and there was no apparent increase
in violence or other security incidents during the period in question.”
However, the company did not address the length of time that understaffing –
concealed by falsified staff records – had occurred at the ICC, and whether
such understaffing had contributed to the excessive violence at the facility
that led to the class-action suit filed by the ACLU, the assault on Hanni
Elabed and the levels of violence noted in the Higgins report.

“Based on the findings by the IDOC and CCA’s own
admissions, every single jurisdiction that contracts with CCA should conduct an
audit to ensure contractual compliance and adequate staffing at facilities
operated by the company,” stated PLN managing editor Alex Friedmann, who also
serves as president of the Private Corrections Institute – a non-profit
watchdog organization that opposes prison privatization. “CCA has a lengthy
track record of understaffing and high staff turnover, resulting in incidents
such as riots, assaults and hostage situations that threaten public safety.
This is likely the tip of a larger iceberg.”

The State of Idaho pays CCA almost $30 million per year
to operate the ICC under a contract that expires on June 30, 2014. The contract
provides for two two-year extensions.

Sources: Private Corrections Institute press release
(April 12, 2013), CCA press release (April 11, 2013), www.spokesman.com, http://www.blogs.barrons.com/

(First published by Prison Legal News and used here by permission) 

About Christopher Zoukis, MBA

Christopher Zoukis, MBA, is the Managing Director of the Zoukis Consulting Group, a federal prison consultancy that assists attorneys, federal criminal defendants, and federal prisoners with prison preparation, in-prison matters, and reentry. His books include Directory of Federal Prisons (Middle Street Publishing, 2020), Federal Prison Handbook (Middle Street Publishing, 2017), Prison Education Guide (PLN Publishing, 2016), and College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons (McFarland & Company, 2014).

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