Idaho's "Gladiator School" problems & history of private prison abuses

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

This is the first in a two-part piece on the history of the State of Idaho's contracting with private prison corporations.

Idaho, despite a long run of horror stories and lawsuits involving private prison corporations, continues to contract with private prison companies like Corrections Corporation of America.  Here's the latest story:

"Guards at a private prison instigated - and watched - a gang fight that left him brutally beaten and unconscious, says a man who claims that Corrections Corporation of America guards "foster" brutality between inmates, and conceal injuries in the prison's "in-house" medical center. Jacob Clevenger sued Corrections Corporation of America, CCA Western Properties, and Philip Valdez, warden of the CCA's Idaho Correctional Center, in Federal Court." ("Brutality alleged at private prison," Courthouse News, March 26)

As we reported in November, Clevenger's accusations are not the first at the Idaho Correctional Center.  In fact, the facility has a reputation as being one of the most violent correctional facilities in the nation, earning its nickname “The Gladiator School” from people incarcerated there.

The FBI investigated Idaho Correctional Center (ICC) 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.

But, Idaho's problems with ICC are only the latest in a long string of problems with private prisons.  Idaho pulled its prisoners out of not one, not two, but three private prisons in Texas following complaints of abuse and suicides squalid conditions.

I've written about these issues extensively at the Texas Prison Bid'ness blog.  In 2006, Idaho moved prisoners from the Newton County Correctional Center, a GEO Group-run prison, after reports of inmate abuse included prisoners being forcibly cuffed and maced.

Idaho then pulled its prisoners from the GEO-operated Bill Clayton Detention Center in Littlefield after the suicide of Idaho prisoner Randall McCullough, who, according to news reports, had spent more than a year in solitary confinement.  GEO was later hit with a massive lawsuit over in the McCullough case. Since the facility's closure, Littlefield has had its bond ratings dropped and turned to two different private prison companies in an effort to fill the prison beds.  It even unsuccessfully attempted to auction its prison last year.

The fate wasn't much better at the GEO-operated Dickens County Correctional Center.  That facility was initially closed in 2007 after an investigation of the suicide of Idaho prisoner Scot Noble Payne found "squalid" conditions.  The Idaho Department of Corrections' Health Director called the facility the worst he'd ever seen.

So, with that history, why does Idaho continue to contract with private prison corporations?  We'll cover a theory in part two of this series.