Private Prison Firm To Pay Idaho $1 Million For False Records That Left Key Security Posts Vacant

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One of the world’s largest private prison firms agreed to pay Idaho $1 million on Tuesday to compensate the state corrections department for thousands of hours in falsified staffing records while key security positions were left vacant.

A lawsuit that initially exposed chronic under-staffing by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) depicted violence — unchecked by an adequate presence of guards and other staff — as so rampant at Idaho Correctional Center that it was known by its inmates as “gladiator school.” Inmates alleged staff encouraged brutal fights between prisoners as a management tool, and another lawsuit by prison guards now alleges that their safety was put in jeopardy by under-staffing. As part of a 2011 settlement of the case in which it admitted no wrongdoing, CCA agreed to make some improvements, including more careful monitoring.

Corrections Corporation of America later admitted that it had reported staffing for at least 4,800 hours during which mandatory security posts were actually vacant. But in September, a federal judge held CCA in contempt for failing to comply with the earlier settlement, and wrote, “it is clear that non-compliance was far worse than the report of about 4,800 hours would lead one to believe.” It ordered a steep fine for future misreported hours.

A KPMG audit obtained by the Associated Press Wednesday showed that Corrections Corporation of America “left more than 26,000 hours of mandatory guard posts unstaffed or inadequately covered in 2012,” and that even that “number was likely lower than the actual amount of understaffing because some data was impossible to verify, and left out of the equation.”

In the wake of these revelations, Idaho ended its $29 million contract with CCA after its expiration in June, and the state department of corrections will take over the facility. This is one of four contracts CCA lost in a single month after extensive reports of abuse, neglect, and fraud. But CCA and other private prison firms are expecting to see a new source of profit from increased detention of immigrants. During a CCA investor call, CEO Damon Hininger assured a “strong demand for beds” after immigration reform, and an investor call with another firm, GEO Group, projected “growing offender population” due in part to immigration detention.

These calls expose a perverse incentive to lobby for more incarceration, and private prison firms have done just that on immigration and other criminal justice issues, even after promises not to.

CCA and other major private prison firms have a reputation for abuse and abysmal conditions, with profit motives incentivizing the companies to prioritize profit over the safety and rehabilitation of the inmates, and to repeatedly cut corners to save money. A September report found that CCA imposes quotas in state contracts to keep its beds filled.