Humpday Hall of Shame: Gladiator School

Welcome to The Hump Day Hall of Shame:  Every Wednesday we’ll be highlighting the private prison industry’s influence on public policy through campaign contributions, lobbying, and the revolving door of public and private corrections.

"This isn't even what we know of as a prison — this is a gulag."  -- Steven Pevar, ACLU Attorney

The Idaho Correctional Center (ICC) has a reputation as being one of the most violent correctional facilities in the nation, earning its nickname “The Gladiator School” from its inmates.  ICC was built almost a dozen years ago on state-owned property by the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), and was the first state-owned but privately run facility in the nation.  Since last year, Timothy Wengler has been warden at this facility of more than 2,000 medium security men.

The FBI investigated ICC last year after the Associated Press distributed video of a vicious beating of an inmate as staff watched even as the inmate pleaded to them for help.  That inmate, Hanni Elabed, suffered brain damage.

According to an October AP report, during a 12-month period ICC had 132 inmate-on-inmate assaults while state-run Idaho State Correctional Institution (ISCI) had just 42, a difference of more than 300%.  And in 2008 and again in 2010, ICC had more assaults than all of the other Idaho prisons combined.

“If you're going to ICC, it's going to be fight or die, basically,” was the comment from Todd Goertzen, a former ICC corrections counselor, when asked about the “Gladiator School” moniker.

In late September of this year an agreement between CCA and inmates represented by the ACLU was signed in US District Court.  While CCA admits no guilt in response to allegations of violence, the company will make major changes including increased staffing and investigating all assaults.  It had been alleged that staff denied medical care to assaulted inmates and used inmate-on-inmate violence as a management tool.

CCA has maintained its contract to run the "Gladiator School" despite its violent reputation.  To protect its interests in the state, CCA has two lobbyists on its payroll, according to Idaho’s Secretary of State.

One is C.A. "Skip" Smyser.  Smyser is the husband of Melinda Smyser, an Idaho Republican State Senator and Co-Chair for the Idaho State Republican Party Platform Committee.  Melinda Smyser was appointed to her seat in 2009 by Governor Butch Otter.  CCA's other registered lobbyist is Andrea Evans, who CCA lists as a "Senior Director" for "Partnership Development" on its website. Evans most recently served as a government affairs specialist with Sullivan & Reberger in Boise.