Thursday, March 3, 2011

Will Idaho have more private prisons in the future?

Originally found here

By Mike Murad

In Part 2 of his exclusive KBOI 2News investigation, Mike Murad tracks C.C.A’s money trail and discovers there’s an Idaho connection at the top of the list.

KUNA, Idaho - Monday night in part one of our special investigation, KBOI 2News showed you why Corrections Corporation of America had been hit with almost $150,000 in medical fines at the Idaho Correctional Center, the private prison it runs south of Boise.

The problems for C.C.A. haven’t been limited to Idaho but tonight we’ll show you which Idaho politician has benefited the most from the private prison company, why C.C.A. might be setting up shop in Idaho for years to come, and who could end up paying the tab in the long run.

On Monday, we told you about serious allegations about substandard medical care at I.C.C. and serious fines because of it for the private company that runs the prison in Kuna.

But the problems for C.C.A. are not limited to Idaho. We found complaints against C.C.A. in all 19 states they operate, all within the past decade, involving much more than just medical care.

Last year the governor of Kentucky ordered 400 female inmates to be removed from a C.C.A. run prison after allegations of sexual misconduct by male guards.

In 2009, C.C.A. settled with 21 former female workers in Colorado who claimed male managers forced them to have sex to keep their jobs. In Florida, a corrections officer pleaded guilty to smuggling drugs into a C.C.A. run jail. And in December, C.C.A. settled another lawsuit with the A.C.L.U. in California requiring, in part, the San Diego Correctional Facility hire more nurses.

“It’s not just unique to this facility,” says B.S.U. Criminal Science Professor Dr. Michael Blankenship. Blankenship says part of the problem is that private prison companies like C.C.A. exist to make a profit. “If you’re not delivering profits,” say Blankenship, “who’s going to buy your stock?”

We checked into the financial health of C.C.A. A decade ago on February 1st, 2001, their stock was trading at $2.50 a share. Four weeks ago, on February 1st, 2011, it was ten times that amount at $25.09 a share.

Dr. Blankenship says he is not a fan of privately managed prisons because of the reality that they exist to make a profit. “I think the idea is terrible,” says Blankenship. “I think if there are some things the state is going to do, like incarcerate and take people’s freedom away, then they should not parcel that out and let someone make a profit out of that.”

But not only does C.C.A. make money. It gives money.

KBOI 2News obtained a list of candidates receiving money from C.C.A. between 2003 and 2010. At the head of the pack receiving $19,000 is Idaho Governor Butch Otter.

We called C.C.A. to find out why but the company declined our request for an on camera interview. Instead, Spokesman Steve Owen sent a statement that reads in part: “Because C.C.A.’s political contributions reflect the specific laws and limits of individual states, it is difficult to compare our corporate giving to elected officials from different regions of the country.”

The disparity in campaign contribution is even more noteworthy when you consider of the 75,000 inmates C.C.A. supervises nationwide only 2,000 of them are here in Idaho. That’s less than 3 percent.

“The governor has made no secret that he’s in favor of privatization,” says Blankenship. And apparently Governor Otter has been for awhile.

Four years ago, Otter asked lawmakers to begin working on legislation that would have allowed private companies to build and manage prisons from the ground up. So far, lawmakers have shot it down.

But given C.C.A.’s financial backing of Otter, and the governor’s preference toward private prisons, should we assume Idaho will have more privately run facilities in the future? KBOI 2News wanted to ask Governor Otter that question. But for the past two weeks his office has told us that his schedule is too busy to schedule a 15 minute interview.

If money is the only measuring stick, C.C.A. appears to be doing what they claim to do. Save the state of Idaho money.

About 7,500 inmates are currently behind bars in Idaho prisons. It costs Idaho taxpayers about $52 a day per inmate, which amounts to just under $19,000 a year. 2,000 inmates are at I.C.C. The state is paying C.C.A. about $40 a day for each of them, which is less than $15,000 per prisoner per year. The annual difference is almost $9 million dollars.

But Professor Blankenship says it’s not a fair comparison, partly because of who is housed where. Part of the state’s responsibility is the 400 inmates in maximum security and death row. I.C.C. houses only medium and minimum security inmates who are cheaper to oversee.

"You have to cut somewhere in order to make a profit," says Blankenship.

Steve Hernandez has served time at Idaho's state run prisons as well as I.C.C. and says there is a difference, especially when it comes to medical care.

At I.C.C., Hernandez says “If someone got beat up, they'll get stitches but they won't take X-Rays. Let's say someone gets beat and gets their jaw hurt. They don’t X-Ray it. They refuse to X-Ray it,” says Hernandez.

“They'll just patch you up and send you to the hole. And that’s pretty much it.” KBOI 2News asked Hernandez if that was the case at state run facilities as well. “No,” he says. “If you had a problem at the state run facilities they take care of it. They help you out."

Last year's videotaped inmate assault at I.C.C. has gotten a lot of attention. But maybe the most troubling aspect of what's happening at I.C.C. is what's happening after the prison violence.

After the assault that left him with a broken nose and black circles under his eyes, former I.C.C. inmate Mark Snowball documented months of chronic breathing problems and bloody noses. He even started working on a lawsuit in prison, not for money, but for medical care. Snowball says even that didn't get C.C.A.’s attention.

"They just said you'll just have to wait until you're released because you're going to be released soon," said Snowball.

And when Snowball was released in January, 2010, his lawsuit in Ada County's Fourth District Court was thrown out. The state of Idaho and C.C.A. were no longer responsible, because Snowball was no longer an inmate. His medical problems were now his alone.

So what's to stop C.C.A. from withholding medical care long enough for the other 75,000 inmates they manage so the expense is eventually a burden for someone else?

At this point all we can do is ask the question, because we haven't been given any answers.

But here's why every Idaho taxpayer should care about what happens to Idaho inmates.

If the state of Idaho is dragged into court it takes taxpayer money for a defense, not to mention a judgment.

Originally the A.C.L.U. named Idaho on the lawsuit, right along with C.C.A. in the case. But last June the A.C.L.U. agreed to drop Idaho as a defendant, saving taxpayers the possible expense in this case.

Currently the A.C.L.U. is suing C.C.A. for $155 million dollars, which is equal to the amount of profit the company earned in 2009.

A C.C.A. spokesman told KBOI 2News the company will agree to an on camera interview after the lawsuit has been addressed.