Federal Judge Holds Corrections Corporation of America in Contempt for Violating Idaho Settlement Agreement

Affiliate: ACLU of Idaho
September 16, 2013 8:32 pm

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ACLU of Idaho
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BOISE, Idaho – A federal judge today held Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) in contempt for not abiding by terms of a settlement agreement over how the CCA runs the Idaho Correctional Center (ICC). Specifically, U.S. District Court Judge David Carter found that CCA had failed to meet minimum staffing requirements stipulated by the settlement agreement with the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Idaho, which represented a class of all prisoners incarcerated at ICC. The settlement agreement, signed by CCA and the ACLU in September 2011, was made an order of the court soon after.

“We are thankful to Judge Carter for carefully examining the evidence. As his decision explains, CCA falsified staffing logs to make it appear that ICC was fully staffed, and CCA employees lied about the number of officers actually on duty. It took great effort to uncover the truth. Guards were absent for thousands of hours when they were supposed to be present. What is particularly disturbing is that CCA failed to adequately staff ICC despite the obvious additional risk of assault created for both prisoners and staff, and the unnecessary stress and fear it generated,” said Stephen L. Pevar, senior staff counsel with the ACLU Racial Justice Program and lead counsel in the case.

The 2011 court order stemmed from a federal class action lawsuit the ACLU filed in March 2010 alleging deliberate indifference by CCA officials, inadequate staffing and supervision, and a failure to adequately investigate acts of violence. Although CCA denied those allegations and admitted no wrongdoing as part of the agreement, CCA did agree to make a number of improvements at ICC designed to reduce violence in the prison, one of which was to hire additional correctional officers and to abide by the staffing requirements in its contract with the Idaho Department of Correction.

During a two-day hearing in Boise last month, the ACLU presented evidence showing that CCA violated the court order thousands of times, and that ICC may have been understaffed every day. CCA’s own investigation found that on the night shift alone during a 7-month period in 2012, ICC was missing 4,800 hours of security posts, and that ICC employees had falsified documents to make it appear that ICC was fully staffed.

In his ruling today, the judge said that CCA “regularly fell short” of its duty to assign enough guards to ICC. The court pointed out that CCA was well aware that ICC had many more assaults than Idaho’s other prisons and had “ample reason” to make sure that ICC was fully staffed, and yet CCA “clearly violated the staffing requirements” of the order. The court also said that CCA, to this day, has yet to make “a detailed examination” of the number of hours it falsified and overcharged the state.

As a result of these violations, the court granted the ACLU’s request to extend the deadline of the order, which was set to expire this month, by two years; to compel CCA to hire an independent monitor to ensure full compliance in the future; and to pay a fine of $100 an hour if there are more than 12 hours of missing guards a month. In addition, the court indicated that it would require CCA to pay attorneys’ fees to the ACLU and the court directed the ACLU’s attorneys to submit documentation of their fees and costs.

“The court’s contempt finding is an important step in ensuring that CCA is accountable and transparent to Idaho taxpayers,” said Richard Eppink, ACLU of Idaho’s legal director. “The court specifically points out that CCA has failed to be candid about the extent of understaffing at ICC. Hopefully, this order will lead to improved honesty, transparency, and accountability in the future.”

The decision can be found here: https://www.aclu.org/prisoners-rights/kelly-v-wengler-memorandum-decision-and-order-finding-cca-civil-contempt

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