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Has Idaho's prison contractor gone rogue?

Marty Trillhaase
February 11, 2013
Lewiston Tribune

Idaho Correction Director Brent Reinke has lost control of the private contractor running the Idaho Correctional Center - if he ever had it.

At the heart of the state's decade-long relationship with Nashville, Tenn.-based Corrections Corporation of America is this: CCA has agreed to field a minimum number of security guards at the Idaho prison - 55 to supervise the 2,060-bed facility during the day, 49 at night.

Reinke can't be sure that's actually happening. Nor can he take CCA's word for it.

Called a "gladiator school," inmate-on-inmate violence at the prison goes unchecked.

Watch the videotape of prisoners beating Hanni Elabed senseless. Read Marlin Riggs' $55 million lawsuit against CCA.

Pore over the allegations in a class action lawsuit the American Civil Liberties Union filed against CCA. Or review the latest charges from inmates who say they got beaten up by the very gangs CCA put in charge of the prison and thereby empowered outside its walls.

The common denominator linking all of this is a business model: Critics say CCA maximizes profits by scrimping on staff and their training.

CCA all but admitted it in 2011 when it settled the ACLU lawsuit, agreeing to increase staffing levels and to finally follow the contract it signed with the state of Idaho.

CCA documents its security staffing levels and submits those reports to the state. But, as the Associated Press' Rebecca Boone discovered, CCA's numbers don't jibe:

CCA would have you believe some of its guards are working up to 48 hours straight. If that's happening, CCA is putting sleep-deprived guards in the midst of violence-prone inmates. Plus all that overtime pay has just got to be more expensive than simply hiring more people.

If staffers aren't working those long shifts, then the logs are counting phantoms.

CCA provides Reinke's department with two reports - one that covers staffing levels and another to demonstrate CCA's compliance with a rule limiting an employee's overtime to 112 hours during any two- week period.

In one case, a guard filed 111 hours of overtime on one report; 123 hours on the other.

Elsewhere, a guard put down 112 hours of overtime on one document when he claimed 130 hours elsewhere.

And in a separate incident, a guard detailed working two 36-hour shifts and 140 hours during two weeks while listing only 112 hours on the overtime report.

So which is it? Are guards working more than they're supposed to - or are the logs counting security that isn't there?

People responsible for monitoring CCA's compliance with its contract spotted evidence of vacant security posts and double posting - in other words, one guard filling two jobs at the same time. But Reinke's department didn't dig deeply until the AP filed a public records request - timing the prison director concedes looks "odd."

By calling in the Idaho State Police to get to the bottom of the discrepancies, Reinke is admitting he can't trust CCA and his department lacks the expertise to find out on its own.

"We don't know what we're looking at here," Reinke said. "That's why we're trying to get more information."

Think about that. Here's a fellow who has shown himself to be a fairly capable administrator of the prisons where he has direct supervision. Inmates under his chain of command are safer. There are no reports of gangs running prison tiers. There's even reason to think that, after you factor in the high-cost prisoners CCA avoids, Reinke's system is a better bargain for the Idaho taxpayer.

But he hasn't figured out how to supervise a prison contractor who hands him misleading or inconsistent paperwork. And if a lawsuit and the federal courts can't get CCA to follow its contract, how is Reinke supposed to get compliance?

"It's a learning process," Reinke says.

True enough. But he's not the only pupil. After years of working with this rogue outfit, wouldn't you think Gov. C.L. (Butch) Otter and the Legislature have learned enough to send CCA packing?


Originally posted at http://lmtribune.com/opinion/article_1cdced78-3f81-52d3-aaa3-33830e1f7cc3.html

The editorial posted here is provided by permission of its original publisher and does not necessarily reflect the views of Idaho Public Television.

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