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Law & Justice

Private Idaho Prison Official: Bonuses Were Paid For Cutting Costs

Charlie Litchfield

A former regional manager for private prison company Corrections Corporation of America says top employees at a private prison in Idaho were given yearly bonuses if they cut costs on salary, wages and other operational expenses and met other company goals.

CCA, which has since changed its name to CoreCivic, operated the Idaho Correctional Center under a $29 million annual contract with the state of Idaho until chronic understaffing, violence and other problems prompted Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter to order the state to take over the facility in 2013.

Kevin Myers, CCA's former managing director who oversaw the Idaho facility and several others, testified in Boise's U.S. District Court on Thursday as a witness in a lawsuit against the company.

A group of inmates at the Idaho prison sued in 2012, contending that CCA understaffed the prison to boost profits in a so-called "ghost worker scheme." The inmates contend the understaffing made the facility more dangerous and led to an attack where they were jumped, beaten and stabbed by members of a prison gang.

CCA has vigorously denied those claims.

Myers told the jury he was responsible for helping officials at the Idaho Correctional Center develop action plans to support strategic initiatives and meet company goals, and to find ways to make the company more cost-efficient and profitable. At the Idaho facility, one of the goals was to reduce the level of inmate-on-inmate violence.

He also said his supervisor, CCA Vice President Steven Conry, sometimes directed him to reduce prison budgets. Conry told him that salary, wages and overtime were "the primary levers we can manipulate to impact our budgets," Myers said.

The Idaho prison often struggled to hire enough new correctional officers to keep up with the high turnover rate, and that led to a lot of overtime, Myers told the jury. Still, he said, CCA had budgeted for roughly 50 more positions at the prison than what was contractually required by the state of Idaho.

He also said shift rosters showed the facility was adequately staffed, and that on the day the inmates were attacked there were extra officers working in their housing unit.

Legal settlements and fines for not meeting contract requirements were also worked into the budget, Myers said. So, when CCA would reach a settlement to end a lawsuit, the amount it paid out would impact the next budget period, he said. One document shown to the jury indicated the Idaho prison had to make up about $1.5 million from its budget by the end of 2012 because of "legal accruals."

Jurors also heard from Garth Carrick, a former correctional officer at the prison who was working on the day of the attack.

Carrick said he was frustrated when he arrived and looked at the shift roster, because it incorrectly showed he had already been working at the facility for six hours even though he wasn't there yet. When a colleague called over the radio to say a fight between inmates was underway, he ran to help.

He said he found the correctional officer trying to break up the fight between several inmates on his own.

"I actually saw Raymond Bryan there," he said, gesturing to one of the plaintiffs, "all curled up in a ball and this gang member is just stabbing him in the face over and over again."

The incident was frightening because there weren't any other correctional officers around to help at first, Carrick said, making him feel, "like we were going to die in there."

The trial is expected to last several more days.