Private prison company CCA to face trial in violence lawsuit

AP News
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Posted: Jul 07, 2016 5:22 PM

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A federal judge says the Corrections Corporation of America will stand trial in December in a civil rights lawsuit over understaffing and violence at an Idaho prison.

U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge made the ruling Thursday, scheduling a four-day jury trial for Dec. 13 in Boise.

Eight inmates at the Idaho Correctional Center sued the Nashville, Tennessee-based private prison company in 2012, contending that poor management and chronic understaffing led to an attack in which they were jumped, stabbed and beaten by a prison gang. The inmates also contend that CCA covered up the understaffing in monthly reports to the state of Idaho, a practice they called a "ghost worker scheme" designed to boost profits despite putting inmates at risk. Two of the inmates were later dropped from the case, but six remain as plaintiffs.

CCA has vigorously disputed the claims.

"The safety and security of our facilities is our top priority," CCA spokesman Steven Owen wrote in an email to the AP on Thursday. "The Idaho Correctional Center was appropriately staffed at the time of this incident, and we are confident we will prevail on this claim at trial."

CCA operated the Idaho Correctional Center for more than a decade under a contract with the Idaho Department of Correction. The company faced frequent lawsuits from inmates about violence at the facility, however, along with occasional criticism from state corrections officials. In 2013, an Associated Press investigation revealed CCA was falsifying reports in order to hide understaffing in violation of both a court order and the company's $29 million annual contract with the state.

In 2014, Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter ordered IDOC to take over the prison.

In their lawsuit, the inmates contended that CCA was working with a few powerful prison gangs to control the facility south of Boise and cut back on staffing. They pointed at CCA's practice of grouping members of the same gang together in housing units as evidence of their allegations, and they said that the housing practices and vacant guard posts led to a high rate of inmate-on-inmate violence.

But in the order issued Thursday, the federal judge said the gang housing claim didn't pass muster.

"That is, while there is evidence to suggest both the prior and instant attack were possible due to pervasive understaffing, there is nothing to suggest either attack was caused by the policy of clustering gang members together," Lodge wrote.

The judge also noted that CCA had been held in contempt of court in a separate lawsuit for failing to adequately staff the prison as required, and he said that could be used as evidence when this lawsuit goes to trial.