(CN) – An investigative reporter sued the FBI for records on its investigation of whether Corrections Corporation of America defrauded states of taxpayer money.
Shane Bauer’s federal FOIA complaint in Washington, D.C. seeks records of the FBI’s investigation of whether Corrections Corporation of America, the nation’s largest profist-seeking prison company, faked staffing reports at an Idaho prison.
The FBI’s investigation of CCA’s management of the Idaho Correctional Center ended this year, but Bauer says the FBI’s response to his March request under the Freedom of Information Act shows that the agency also looked into the 64 other prisons CCA managed.
For two years, CCA had been under fire in Idaho for allegedly defrauding the state by claiming it had staffed mandatory positions at the Idaho Correctional Center (ICC), though the jobs remained vacant. The understaffing scandal has also been blamed on violence within the prison.
The feds took over after a state police review, upon the governor’s request, concluding the 15-month investigation of CCA in May.
The investigation did not look into whether understaffing at ICC led to violence in the prison, and the U.S. government declined to pursue corruption or fraud charges against Idaho or CCA.
“The FBI’s detailed and thorough investigation did not produce evidence of a federal criminal violation,” U.S. Attorney Wendy Olson said in a statement at the time. “Rather, the evidence showed that the false entries and understaffing could be attributed only to relatively low-level CCA employees.”
Olson said the false entries did not indicate any intent to defraud Idaho, which is required to pursue federal criminal fraud charges.
Idaho reimbursed CCA based on the number of inmates housed in the prison, not the number of guards or hours worked, the FBI found.
“Evidence showed that CCA and ICC employees responsible for billing were unaware of the staffing issues or the falsified fosters,” Olson said.
With a longstanding history of abuse and extreme inmate violence, the Idaho Correctional Center has earned a reputation as “gladiator school.” In 2010, an Associated Press video showed prison guards there failing to stop an attack on a prisoner whose head was stomped several times. He now is permanently disabled.
The American Civil Liberties Union filed a class-action lawsuit after those revelations.
Idaho had for years flirted with permanently privatizing its prisons. In 2008 Gov. Butch Otter proposed legislation to expand private prisons in the state and to import out-of-state prisoners.
In late 2014 the Idaho Statesman revealed that Otter’s staff negotiated a $1 million settlement with CCA and helped manage the state’s investigation of the prison company.
CCA officially left the state in June 2014 after its last contract expired, and ICC reverted to state management.
The FBI investigators cleared Otter and other state employees of any wrongdoing. No state employees “sought to delay, hinder, or corruptly influence a state criminal investigation,” Olson said in her May statement.
CCA has a history of problems in the more than 60 prisons it runs in Idaho and other states.
In 2013 a federal judge held CCA in contempt for failing to meet terms of its settlement with Idaho inmates and the ACLU, which included failing to staff key security positions for thousands of hours.
This year CCA settled a prisoner lawsuit in Colorado that alleged negligence during a 2004 riot. The company has also been the target of dozens of sexual harassment and wage-and-hour suits from employees.
Bauer, a reporter for Mother Jones who specializes in investigating prisons, was apprehended in 2009 near the Iraqi border and spent more than two years in Iran’s infamous Evin Prison. That stretch included four months in solitary confinement, where he passed the time with activities like memorizing Morse code.
He has written extensively about prison conditions, including a 2012 Mother Jones article in which he criticized California’s Pelican Bay supermax prison.
Bauer declined to comment on his Aug. 20 lawsuit, saying only that his investigation is continuing.
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