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Wednesday, June 12, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Guards Blame Private Prison for Outrage

BOISE, Idaho (CN) - Corrections Corporation of America's intentional understaffing of a private prison in Idaho denies guards proper equipment and led to one guard being brutally beaten, four CCA guards claim in court.

Based in Nashville, CCA is the largest private prison company in the United States. It owns and manages more than 60 prisons across the country, with a capacity of more than 90,000 inmates, according to its home page.

At issue in this lawsuit in Ada County Court is its Idaho Correctional Center (ICC), in the desert south of Boise, which CCA has run since 1997 under a contract with the state.

Plaintiffs Mark Eixenberger, Mandi Bravo, Mario Vasquez and Leonard King claim CCA policies create dangerous working conditions and allow violence to proliferate, in CCA prisons across the country.

"CCA has been sued for allowing inmates to be forced to participate in 'fight clubs' for the sadistic pleasure of CCA employees, and CCA was accused of chronically understaffing the Lake Erie Correctional Institution in Ohio, where the facility allegedly lacked appropriate video surveillance equipment to permit employees to monitor inmates," the complaint states.

CCA has been a defendant in 379 lawsuits in the past 5 years, according to the Courthouse News database.

In Idaho, CCA settled a 2011 class action brought by ICC inmates and the American Civil Liberties Union in Kelly v. Wengler, alleging "understaffing and rampant violence" at the prison, according to the new complaint.

During court proceedings in Kelly, "it was found that CCA had falsified staffing records to mislead the Idaho Department of Corrections about its staffing levels at ICC," the complaint states. "Records were falsified by using 'ghost workers'-employees whom CCA claims to have staffed security posts even though they were not even present in the facility-in order to mislead IDOC into believing that the contractual minimum number of security staff had been on duty inside the facility when, in fact, the prison was dangerously understaffed."

In September 2013, U.S. District Judge David Carter held the company in contempt for breaching the settlement agreement in Kelly, and assigned an independent monitor "to keep a closer eye on CCA's management of ICC," the complaint states.

It continues: "In addition to falsifying those records, the plaintiffs are also informed that at least one other instance occurred in which records relating to ongoing investigations into crimes and other incidents at the prison were knowingly destroyed by CCA administrators.

"Even after its staffing fraud was discovered," the complaint states, CCA did not "rake any meaningful steps to correct the problem with understaffing," but merely began recording that it was failing to staff the prison adequately.

"According to IDOC records, CCA left more than 500 mandatory security posts vacant during one period of time in 2010, and left 300 such posts vacant in 2011,. As a result ... the CCA-run prison had roughly three times the number of inmate-on-inmate assaults as other state prisons.

"This kind of overstaffing has also led to the improper use of 'overtimers,' who were permitted by CCA to work to the point that they were too fatigued to be of any meaningful use in protecting their fellow security officers or in guarding inmates."

In addition, employees are undertrained in hand-to-hand combat and are consistently left by themselves to conduct routine duties. Employees are in constant contact with more than one inmate, with no backup, with defective radios and in some cases without standard-issue pepper spray or handcuffs, the complaint states.

"Handcuffs that can be used to restrain prisoners at critical times are also often in short supply, and employees consider themselves lucky to get a pair if they arrive for their shifts early enough," the complaint states.

Plaintiff King says he was brutally beaten by an unstable inmate who had been waiting for him in an "ambush."

Backup arrived late and ended up pepper spraying King in the face.

He was forced to finish his shift anyway, and later learned he had suffered a concussion and a closed-head injury.

He also suffered swollen gums that caused his jaw to become misaligned, as well as cuts, bruises and abrasions to the head and mouth.

CCA markets "The CCA Way" in its marketing materials, with catch phrases such as "safety and security," "teamwork," "communication," "integrity," and "cost effectiveness" as part of its "guiding principles."

"At CCA, we do more than follow policy and procedure," the company states on its website. "Our employees do more than adhere to the highest standards in corrections. Each day, they operate according to more than 500 strict performance development guidelines developed by the American Correctional Association. They abide by the strong sense of accountability that has guided our company for more than a quarter century. They also follow the requirements of our many federal, state and government partners."

The plaintiffs say, in effect: Baloney.

Two plaintiffs blame their job for their divorces; two others claims the work gave them post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety disorder.

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter said this month that the state will take over operation of the prison. Idaho taxpayers have been paying CCA $29 million a year to run the 2,080-bed prison.

The plaintiffs seek medical costs, costs of suit and damages of at least $1 million apiece for intentional infliction of emotional distress, pain and suffering, outrage, and intentional misconduct.

They are represented by Andrew Schoppe.

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