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Nashville-Based CCA Admits Falsifying Staffing Records at Idaho Facility

Press release from the Private Corrections Institute; April 12, 2013:

Corrections Corporation of America Admits to Falsified Staffing Records, Violating Contract with Idaho DOC

Nashville, TN – Yesterday, the Idaho Dept. of Correction (IDOC) announced that Corrections Corporation of America (NYSE: CXW) had acknowledged that employees at the company’s Idaho Correctional Center (ICC) falsified staffing records from at least May through November 2012. As a result, the state paid CCA for almost 4,800 staffing hours for positions that were in fact vacant during that time period.

According to a review of ICC shift logs obtained by the Associated Press, some CCA employees were falsely listed as having worked 24, 36 and even 48 continuous hours. In January 2013, attorneys for prisoners housed at the ICC filed an amended complaint in federal court that alleged CCA officials had falsified staffing records to conceal chronic understaffing. The prisoners claimed that fewer staff members were on duty at the time of prisoner-on-prisoner
assaults than the number reflected on shift logs. The lawsuit also contends that CCA employees collaborated with ICC gang members in order to maintain control at the facility.

“[E]mployees were being placed on the shift schedule who were not present within the building or who were actually working in other areas and in some cases were no longer employees of CCA,” stated T.J. Angstman, one of the attorneys representing the prisoners. “This was being done to fraudulently show the State of Idaho that ICC was fully staffed when it fact it was not and to hide culpability for the injuries suffered by the plaintiffs.”

The following month, the IDOC announced that it had asked the Idaho State Police “to review whether a criminal investigation was warranted after discovering significant discrepancies in ICC’s staffing records.” Idaho’s contract with CCA requires “specific staffing levels to ensure the safe operation of the 2,060-bed prison,” according to IDOC Director Brent D. Reinke.

In fact, CCA has a well-documented track record of failing to ensure the safe operation of the Idaho Correctional Center. Video footage of prisoner Hanni Elabed being viciously assaulted by another prisoner while CCA guards watched from a control room but did not intervene made national headlines in November 2010. CCA had objected to the release of the videotape by the Associated Press, claiming that it posed “an unnecessary security risk to our staff, the inmates entrusted to our care, and ultimately to the public.”

Following the release of the video, U.S. Attorney Wendy Olson said the FBI was investigating whether CCA employees had violated the civil rights of ICC prisoners. Elabed filed a federal lawsuit against CCA, which settled under confidential terms.

Separately, the ACLU of Idaho filed a class-action suit against CCA seeking injunctive relief
due to rampant violence at the ICC; the facility was known as a “gladiator school” due to the high number of violent incidents. The lawsuit, Kelly v. CCA, settled in September 2011 with CCA agreeing to a number of policy changes, including compliance with contractual staffing levels, increasing the number of employees at the facility, investigating claims of staff failing to protect prisoners from violence, and preparing a report on prisoner-on-prisoner assaults.

According to an August 7, 2008 report by IDOC investigator Tim Higgins, known as the Higgins report, “Since the beginning of 2008, incidents of violence at the Idaho Correctional Center has steadily increased to the point that there are four incidents for every one that occurs in the rest of the Idaho state operated facilities combined” (emphasis added). CCA designated the Higgins report “Confidential” and “Attorneys’ eyes only” in the Kelly litigation.

With respect to its admission that ICC employees had falsified staffing records, CCA issued a press release on April 11 saying it would compensate the state for the vacant staff positions and “take appropriate disciplinary action” against the ICC staff members involved. CCA downplayed the fraudulent records, obliquely stating “there were some inaccuracies.”

CCA further said “[t]he unverified hours represent a fraction of the total staffing requirements, and there was no apparent increase in violence or other security incidents during the period in question.” However, unstated was the length of time that understaffing – concealed by falsified staff records – had occurred at the ICC, and whether such understaffing had contributed to the excessive violence at the facility that led to the class-action suit filed by the ACLU, the assault on Hanni Elabed and the levels of violence noted in the Higgins report.

“Based on the findings by the IDOC and CCA’s own admissions, every single jurisdiction that contracts with CCA should conduct an audit to ensure contractual compliance and adequate staffing at facilities operated by the company,” stated Alex Friedmann, president of the Private Corrections Institute, which opposes prison privatization. “CCA has a lengthy track record of understaffing and high staff turnover, resulting in incidents such as riots, assaults and hostage situations that threaten public safety. This is likely the tip of a larger iceberg.”

The State of Idaho pays CCA almost $30 million per year to operate the ICC under a contract that expires on June 30, 2014. The contract provides for two two-year extensions.

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Press Releases

Corrections Corp. of America Loses Another TN Court of Appeals Ruling

Press release from the Human Rights Defense Center; March 2, 2013:

Nashville, TN – On February 28, the Tennessee Court of Appeals issued its second ruling in a long-running lawsuit filed under the state’s Public Records Act against Corrections Corp. of America (CCA), the nation’s largest for-profit private prison company. The Court of Appeals affirmed the ruling of the lower court, holding that CCA must produce documents that it had refused to disclose, as well as pay attorney fees and costs in the case.

The suit was filed by Alex Friedmann, managing editor of Prison Legal News (PLN), a nonprofit monthly publication that reports on criminal justice-related issues. In 2007, CCA denied Friedmann’s request for records related to litigation filed against CCA and for reports or audits that found contract violations by the company, among other documents. The Chancery Court ruled in Friedmann’s favor, finding that CCA was the functional equivalent of a government agency, and ordered CCA to produce the requested records.

CCA appealed and the Court of Appeals affirmed in September 2009, noting, “With all due respect to CCA, this Court is at a loss as to how operating a prison could be considered anything less than a governmental function.”

Following remand, CCA produced a number of the requested records, including hundreds of pages from reports and audits in which CCA had been found in violation of or non-compliance with its contractual obligations to operate prisons and jails in Tennessee. However, CCA refused to produce copies of settlement agreements, verdicts or releases in cases where the company had paid damages or other monetary amounts to resolve lawsuits or claims. CCA also refused to release database printouts listing such settlements.

On December 1, 2011, Chancellor Claudia Bonnyman ruled against CCA, holding that as the functional equivalent of a government agency it could not keep secret its settlement documents, nor its database printouts listing settlements involving the company. The court ordered CCA to pay $28,367.50 in Friedmann’s attorney fees, and the company again appealed.

“CCA has fought tooth-and-nail against disclosing these records for more than four years,” Friedmann said at the time. “This would not have occurred with a government agency, and evidences a significant problem with prison privatization: private prison companies like CCA prefer to operate in secret, with little transparency, and are not accountable to the public.”

On February 28, 2013, the Court of Appeals again ruled against CCA in the company’s second appeal. The appellate court wrote that it “respectfully disagree[d] with CCA’s conclusion” that the company did not have to produce its settlement-related records because such records were not part of its official business related to running prisons and jails. According to the appellate court, “settlement agreements are considered public records under the Public Records Act. Thus, as the functional equivalent of a government agency, CCA was required to turn over settlement agreements related to the operation of the correctional facilities unless otherwise provided by state law.” The Court noted that “the vast majority of case law clearly flies in the face of [CCA’s] interpretation.”

Further, the Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court’s award of $28,367.50 in attorney fees against CCA, finding that Chancellor Bonnyman had properly found that “CCA acted in bad faith in its refusal to disclose the settlement agreements.” The appellate court also ordered CCA to pay Friedmann’s attorney fees incurred in the appeal, and assessed costs against the company. The case was remanded for determination of the total amount of fees that CCA must pay. CCA was represented by Joseph F. Welborn III and Jason W. Callen.

“Perhaps now, after almost five years of litigation, CCA will finally produce the records it should have produced all along pursuant to the state’s public records law,” Friedmann stated. “CCA officials apparently think they are above the law even though their company performs the governmental function of running prisons and jails, and is paid with public taxpayer funds. CCA is one of the least transparent companies when it comes to public accountability, which is very disturbing given that it incarcerates people for the purpose of generating profit.”

The case is Friedmann v. CCA, Court of Appeals of Tennessee at Nashville, No. M2012-00212- COA-R3-CV. Friedmann was represented on appeal by Memphis attorney Andrew Clarke.