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ACLU, Private Prison Company At Odds Over Staffing Of Idaho Prison

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A federal judge will now have to decide whether the private prison company Corrections Corporation of America should be held in contempt of court. 

That's after a two day hearing in Boise wrapped up Thursday. CCA and the ACLU have been sparring over how the company runs the Idaho Correctional Center.

Rebecca Boone with the Associated Press has been covering the hearing this week.

“The ACLU, which is representing inmates at the Idaho Correctional Center, is asking Judge Carter from U.S. District Court, to hold Corrections Corporation of America in contempt of court for failing to abide by a settlement agreement they reached back in 2011.  Specifically, the ACLU says CCA has been under-staffing the prison south of Boise and that’s resulting in problems at the facility.”

Q. How did all this get started?

A. Back in 2010, there were a bunch of lawsuits being filed by inmates at the Idaho Correctional Center against CCA.  Those lawsuits were consolidated and the court appointed the ACLU to represent the inmates.  The inmates claimed the prison was so violent, they called it “Gladiator School,” and that the things that were contributed to the violence rate at the prison were under-staffing and mismanagement by CCA officials.

Q. But didn’t CCA say that wasn’t true?

A. CCA has denied those claims, but, as often happens in lawsuits, they agreed to a settlement in which they were instructed to do operational changes and increase their staffing.  They were ordered by the court essentially to have more correctional officers on the floor.

Q. Is the court overseeing that?

A. Right.  The settlement agreement was set originally to last for two years and if CCA abided by the terms for two years, the case would have been closed.

Q. But that’s not what happened, is it?

A. Right, that expiration date is September 16 of this year.  The ACLU says CCA hasn’t been meeting the terms of their agreement.  Specifically that they’ve been chronically under-staffing the facility, that they’ve been having what some of the witnesses referred to as “Ghost Posts,” where they would say there was somebody working in the reports they gave to the Idaho Department of Correction, but there wasn’t actually any person in that mandatory post and that as a result, there were continuing problems in the prison.  So they wanted the judge to hold CCA in contempt of court and to extend the settlement agreement for some indefinite period of time.

Q. How has it been going in the courtroom?

A. It’s been rather spirited.  It’s not a case that’s before a jury. The judge is deciding. So Judge Carter has been rather pro-active in asking questions of witnesses himself that he thought weren’t getting answered, making sure that he has a full understanding of the case. 

There’s definitely been a wide split of opinion between CCA and the ACLU.  CCA says it’s hard to hire the correctional officers we need for this facility and that’s a problem at every prison, everywhere, not matter who runs it and we’re doing the best we can. 

CCA also says it’s taking effective and thorough steps to make sure they never file false reports with the Idaho Department of Correction again and that they don’t have an under-staffing problem.  And they point out that the level of violence at the facility has actually dropped since the agreement has been in place.  The ACLU however, says CCA still had mandatory position missing just a couple weeks ago, and the company hasn’t taken the effective steps they needed to hire the people they need to fill those positions.  They haven’t raised salaries, they haven’t gotten rid of things that have caused some people to quit, like mandatory overtime.  And the ACLU says CCA has willfully ignored the settlement agreement and actually tried to cover up their under-staffing.

Q. What happens next?

A. Now it’s up to the judge.  He’s indicated he’s going to try to make a decision fairly soon.  He’s going to go over the evidence again in the next couple of days.  He indicated throughout that he’s deciding how long to extend that settlement agreement for, but he didn’t give any suggestion on which way he’s going to go on the contempt of court issue.

Rebecca Boone with the Associated Press says the contract to run the Idaho Correctional Center will come up for bid in the next few months.  The Idaho Department of Correction must then decide who will get the $29 million dollar contract.  Boone says several companies, including CCA, are likely to make a bid.

Copyright 2013 Boise State Public Radio