Friday, March 12, 2010

CCA condones beatings, lawsuit says

Idaho prison staff accused of denying medical treatment

originally found here.

A federal lawsuit claims that Nashville-based Corrections Corporation of America is running an Idaho prison that is so violent it is known as "gladiator school" by inmates.

The American Civil Liberties Union says CCA should have to pay all of its 2009 net profits — $155 million — in punitive damages.

Idaho prison officials also were named in the suit filed by the ACLU on Thursday in U.S. District Court in Boise.

The suit adds to the considerable controversies CCA has faced since its founding in 1983. Last year, it was sued by a Metro officer who was shot by an escapee from a CCA facility; berated for leaving a mentally ill inmate in his Metro jail cell without a bath for 9 months; and sued by 23 female inmates who claim they were raped at a Kentucky prison.

In 2006 CCA settled a suit over the death of a Nashville woman who was left in solitary confinement with massive head injuries. Charges against four guards accused of beating the woman were dropped.

Opponents argue that CCA, the nation's largest private prison operator, uses its political influence to stifle those who say prisons should not be in private hands. It recently lost an attempt to keep all its prison records private when the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled that CCA acts as a public entity in operating public prisons.

The latest lawsuit claims that Idaho's only private prison is extraordinarily violent, with guards deliberately exposing inmates to brutal beatings from other prisoners as a management tool.

The group contends the prison then denies injured inmates medical care to save money and hide the extent of injuries.

Steve Owen, Corrections Corporation of America's director of public affairs, said the company would respond to the lawsuit through court filings. He said state officials have unfettered access to the prison and provide strong oversight at the facility, including daily on-site monitoring.

"For the past decade, CCA has safely and securely managed the Idaho Corrections Center on behalf of our government partner, the Idaho Department of Corrections," Owen said in a prepared statement.

"Our hardworking, professional staff and management team are held accountable to high standards by our government partner, to include those of the American Correctional Association — the highest professional standards in the country for correctional management."

Idaho Department of Correction Director Brent Reinke said he had not seen the lawsuit and could not comment. Stephen Pevar, senior attorney for the ACLU, said he has sued at least 100 jails and prisons, but none came close to the level of violence at Idaho Correctional Center.

"Our country should be ashamed to send human beings to that facility," he said.

Suit asks for $155M

The ACLU is asking for class-action status and $155 million in punitive damages — the entire net profit reported by the company in 2009.

The ACLU said the money should go to lead plaintiff Marlin Riggs, who sustained permanent facial deformities and other medical problems after he was savagely beaten in his cell.

Guards use violence to control prisoner behavior, forcing inmates to "snitch" on other inmates under the threat of moving them to the most violent sections of the prison, ACLU-Idaho Executive Director Monica Hopkins said.

Hopkins said inmates will be beaten by fellow inmates if they become known as snitches. If they refuse to give up names, the guards will have them beaten anyway, she said.

"It doesn't do us any good as a society to put people in there where they have to turn to other gangs and become gang members to protect themselves," Hopkins said. "The thing is, there's a constitutional duty to protect prisoners from violence at the hands of other prisoners."

The lawsuit also refers to an investigation by The Associated Press based on public records requests that found the level of violence at the prison was three times higher than at other Idaho prisons, and that Idaho Department of Correction officials believed violence was also dramatically underreported by Corrections Corporation of America and inmates.

At the time of that report, Steven Conry, CCA's vice president of facility operations, maintained the prison was safe and well-run.

The Idaho Correctional Center houses about 2,000 prisoners. The ACLU contends it is understaffed, with sometimes only two guards on duty to control prison wings with as many as 350 inmates.

Prisoners say aid denied

The ACLU lawsuit details the inmate-on-inmate attacks of about two dozen men, all of whom said they told guards they were in danger of being assaulted, had been assaulted or needed medical care after an assault.

In all the cases, the ACLU contends the men were summarily denied help.
Riggs, the lead plaintiff in the case, claimed members of a violent gang on his cell block told him in May 2008 that he'd be beaten unless he started paying "rent" to the gang.

He said in the lawsuit that he told correctional officers about the threat and begged to be transferred to another cell block but the guards refused. That same day, Riggs says, he was beaten by inmates, knocked down and kicked repeatedly in the face and torso. Blood was spattered on the ceiling of Riggs' cell and pooled on the floor, the ACLU said.

Guards eventually took Riggs to an infirmary where a doctor told him his nose was broken and tried to reset it. However, the doctor refused to take X-rays and ignored several other broken bones in his face, the lawsuit claims.

Riggs was denied medical care for six months before being taken to an ear, nose and throat specialist who said he needed immediate surgery, according to the lawsuit. He ended up with a plate in his cheek and a permanent dent on the side of his face, and he still suffers from blurry vision, headaches, pain, discomfort and mental trauma, Hopkins said.

CCA has paid out millions of dollars to settle dozens of individual lawsuits brought by inmates, family members of prisoners and employees.