Wednesday, March 2, 2011

'The public doesn't know what goes on behind these walls'

Originally found here

KUNA, Idaho - Back in July, 2000, the Idaho Correctional Center opened as the state's first privately run prison.

Recently, I.C.C, run by Corrections Corporation of America, has come under fire after a lawsuit filed by the America Civil Liberties Union, alleging misconduct, mismanagement and more.

For the past two months, KBOI 2News has combed through more than 1,000 pages of documents, including the state's contract with C.C.A. We have also spoken with more than a dozen people trying to learn exactly what's happening inside Idaho's private prison which many believe has become a public problem.

The video from last year is hard to forget. A 30-minute inmate assault at the Idaho Correctional Center in Kuna as guards stand by and watch.

According to the A.C.L.U, the Idaho Correctional Center has more violence than Idaho's eight other prisons combined. But our investigation didn't end there. It was just getting started.

“The public doesn't really know what goes on behind these walls," says former I.C.C. inmate Mark Snowball.

Four years ago, Snowball was an 18-year-old dating a 15-year-old girl. He lived under her parent's roof and says they knew about the relationship he had with their daughter.

Snowball says when he split up with his girlfriend, and while he was being investigated for another charge that was eventually dropped, investigators learned of his prior relationship.

Snowball pleaded guilty to lewd conduct with a minor and was sentenced to two years in prison.

He was sent to I.C.C. in Kuna.

In March 2008, Snowball says he was assaulted in his cell, when someone punched him repeatedly in the face.

Snowball says he suffered a broken nose that was gushing blood, and still has chronic problems that exist almost three years later. “I’m still going through those injuries, sinus pain, congestion, bloody noses daily," says Snowball.

After the attack, he filed multiple grievance forms asking to have X-rays on his nose. He was denied. He asked to see an ear, nose and throat specialist. Again he was denied. At one point months later, still complaining of the lingering effects, he was even charged $5 for a medical visit when a nurse said his problem wasn't chronic.

Eventually, Snowball started the process of filing a lawsuit against the state of Idaho.

Meanwhile, C.C.A. is facing its own lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union. The A.C.L.U. has documented almost two dozen current or former I.C.C. inmates, many with stories similar to Snowballs'.

KBOI 2News requested an interview with the A.C.L.U., but C.C.A. has filed a gag order in the case. As a result, the A.C.L.U declined our interview request.

Nevertheless, we got a copy of the 81-page lawsuit against C.C.A. It tells the story of 23 inmates who all say they sustained serious injuries from assaults at I.C.C., including inmate beatings that split the area above the eye "to the bone, kicks to the face, broken ribs, inmates knocked unconscious, teeth broke, slashed face, eyes swelled shut, blood coming from ear."

In the lawsuit, the A.C.L.U. even cites a former I.C.C. correctional officer who says it took "two hours to clean the pools of blood" in one case.

But the inmate assaults may not be the most troubling part of the story.

The A.C.L.U. maintains the inmates who were beaten never received proper medical care at I.C.C. In case after case, “no X-rays were taken" after the assaults to determine "whether any bones were broken."

But the A.C.L.U. isn't the only one concerned about what may be happening at I.C.C. So is the state of Idaho.

Last year, officials with the Idaho Department of Correction discovered 10 of 13 drug and alcohol counselors at the prison weren't qualified to provide treatment. A separate medical audit revealed I.C.C. had extensive problems administering medical care, including delays in providing medication. In total C.C.A. was fined more than $141,000 by the state.

"I remember standing there with my superior and he went ‘can't help ya, sorry,'" says former I.C.C. correctional officer Tedi Hernandez.

Hernandez worked at I.C.C. in 2008. She says she heard stories of medical care being denied, including X-rays. But she also says daily prescribed medication often didn't make it to inmates on schedule - if at all. That’s what the medical audit of I.C.C. by state officials also concluded.

"I know that blood pressure pills like anti psychotic and some really important ones for my safety - those they ran out every once in a while,” says Hernandez. “Some people went days, other people went weeks. It all depended. They just didn't have their medications."

After just one year on the job, Hernandez quit from what she calls a lack of professionalism.

KBOI 2News wanted to hear what C.C.A. had to say about the allegations about their partnership with Idaho, but they declined to comment.

But the partnership today seems less stable than a decade ago, considering the state’s almost $150,000 in fines for medical related infractions.

Why would C.C.A. cut corners on medical care, even when they were racking up extensive penalties?

On Tuesday, KBOI 2News follows the money where we’ll look into C.C.A’s bottom line, but we’ll also pass along where the company spends its money.

And you might be interested to know which Idaho politician is number one in the country when it comes to financial backing from Corrections Corporation of America, and what that could mean for the future of private prisons in Idaho.