Judge warns CCA witnesses of criminal probe

Wednesday, August 7, 2013 at 4:55pm
Updated 7:35 p.m.

BOISE, Idaho — A federal judge sharply questioned a top official with Corrections Corporation of America over how much money the private prison company should pay back the state of Idaho after failing to meet minimum staffing requirements at a Boise-area prison for several months in 2012.

The comments from U.S. District Judge David Carter came Wednesday during a contempt of court hearing over whether CCA is abiding by the terms of a settlement agreement it reached with inmates at the Idaho Correctional Center in 2011.

The inmates, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho sued in 2010, contending the prison run by Nashville, Tenn.-based CCA was so violent that prisoners call it "Gladiator School."

CCA denied the allegations but reached a deal requiring widespread operating changes including increased staffing. CCA has acknowledged understaffing the mandatory minimum posts at the prison by 4,800 hours during seven months in 2012.

But Scott Craddock, CCA's top ethics officer, said on the witness stand Wednesday that those hours only accounted for understaffing that occurred during the night shift, and that CCA didn't fully investigate the number of hours that were understaffed during the day shift.

A partial review showed at least 152 hours unstaffed in May and another 300 in June, Craddock said.

"As I understand it, CCA has represented they're going to pay back IDOC. What amount should they pay them?" the judge asked Craddock.

"Let's add together," he said, "4800 hours, plus 152, plus 300, what is that? ... And we don't know what the day shift for gosh, July, August, September, October, November, we don't know that, do we? So 4800 hours is kind of a pretty low number, isn't it?"

"We reported what we did a detailed report on," Craddock said, saying they based the estimate on the period they investigated, which was the night shift for seven months.

ACLU attorney Stephen Pevar said he would show evidence that CCA violated the court's order by failing to fill thousands of hours of security posts, that the company tried to cover up the understaffing by filing false documents with the state, that CCA deliberately avoided learning who was responsible for the problems, and that despite learning of the staffing problems more than a year ago, the understaffing continues to this day.

Pevar said the understaffing problems occurred because there was "inadequate supervision by the warden. Someone was asleep at the wheel."

CCA's attorney Daniel Struck said hiring and retaining qualified correctional officers is a problem at prisons of all sorts, nationwide.

CCA's management team at the Idaho Correctional Center did what it could to try to keep the mandatory posts filled, Struck said, and even hired more staffers than were required under the contract to meet the terms of the court settlement.

"The evidence shows there's always going to be challenges in filling mandatory posts," Struck said. He said the company implemented a plan to make sure the vacancies don't happen again, and that there were no increases in inmate assaults as a result of the understaffing.

"As a result there is no reason to punish CCA for taking the actions that they did," Struck said.

Kevin Myers, a regional managing director of operations for CCA, testified the company offered to pay the Idaho Department of Correction $117,000 to cover the understaffed hours. That amounts to about $24.37 an hour.

Myers didn't say what IDOC's response was. The company is paid $29 million a year by Idaho under its state contract.

IDOC spokesman Jeff Ray says the department declined the offer because officials are waiting for the results of an Idaho state police investigation into the understaffing.

4 Comments on this post:

By: i.am.a.taxpayer on 8/8/13 at 7:50

Corrections is an essential function of the government and should never have been turned over to a company trying to make a profit. Instead of any kind of rehabilitation, the goal is now MONEY.

By: pipecarver on 8/8/13 at 11:38

Anytime federal and state governments outsource, they are adding a corporate middleman between the taxpayer (you and I) and the government. Corporations are in business to make a profit; the government is not. I am all for a smaller government, but only if the government realizes an actual cost savings in the process; thus "hopefully" resulting in the lowering of our taxes. This is a perfect example of why government outsourcing fails. With this case alone, Idaho has direct costs, such as the $29 million paid to CCA to "supposedly" perform a service. There are also indirect costs, such as the bill for all the lawyers, judges, etc. who are forced to deal with the problems that CCA has caused as a result of their negligence. So now, CCA has graciously agreed to give back .004 percent of it's gross annual revenue in exchange for it's failure to abide by the terms of the services they agreed to provide. Oh, and I'm sure they will have to kick in a little extra to our elected official's re-election campaigns for all their "pain and suffering." I wonder if that number is higher than the actual settlement? We, the taxpayers, will never know.

By: Moonglow1 on 8/8/13 at 1:11

Moonglow1: Outsourcing government responsibilities does not work.

As noted in the article and from direct experience with for profit prison operator's they maximize profits by understaffing. This is a common ploy. Submit a bid and tell the prison they can save taxpayer money. What really happens is they bid low to win the business then cut staff to maximize profit. This causes unsafe conditions for prison staff and results in non compliance of constitutional mandates. In the end the taxpayer loses. How? The Dept of Justice is called in to fix the problem and ensure operations comply with constitutional mandates covering prisons.
It is a dirty and crooked business. The business is dominated by Wall St: short term profit and big dollars for company CEOs. And CCA and others have impact on public policy and through their high dollar lobbyists they change sentencing laws. After all more prisons means more profit.

Don't kid yourself: the taxpayer loses big time.

By: pipecarver on 8/9/13 at 6:48

"Scott Craddock, CCA's top ethics officer, said on the witness stand Wednesday that those hours only accounted for understaffing that occurred during the night shift, and that CCA didn't fully investigate the number of hours that were understaffed during the day shift."

Congratulations, Mr. Craddock, you just skewed the data in CCA's favor in a court of law. You only studied the hours your prison was LOCKED DOWN, and the prisoners otherwise ASLEEP. Of course this requires less staffing. Did you ever consider studying the hours CCA prisoners were awake and otherwise moving around outside their secure cells? You know, when staffing is more critical (wink, wink).

I love it when these overpaid corporate officer types conveniently skew data in their favor in a court of law. I love it even more when a so-called "Top Ethics Officer" tries to pass this off to an educated judge. Ethics Officers attend statistics courses in undergraduate and graduate school. They know better. Perhaps Mr. Craddock should consider an alternative career in Taxidermy. Perhaps CCA needs to change their name to CYA.