Continued beat downs of inmates at the privately run Idaho Correctional Center have drawn a response from the Idaho Department of Correction, which is now demanding beefed up security to protect inmates from violence.
The prison, which is also mired in a pending class-action prisoner civil rights lawsuit, reported a reduction in assaults in March, but increased violent incidents in April and May, earning a rebuke from IDOC.
"We are seeing an increase in the number of incidents and violence at the Idaho Correctional Center," Idaho prison chief Brent Reinke wrote in a May 26 letter that Boise Weekly obtained through a public records request. "During the month of April, six incidents were reported. Since the beginning of May, there have been 11 reported incidents."
Reinke wrote to Steven Conroy, vice president of Corrections Corporation of America, the Nashville, Tenn.-based company that runs ICC, demanding that the company better control the movement of inmates with a "lock-in, lock-out" protocol and make it a permanent part of operations.
Lock-in, lock-out requires prison officials to keep cell doors closed when inmates are in common areas to prevent them from wandering unobserved into or out of cells. As of May 29, ICC was in total lock down because of a chicken pox outbreak. ICC spokesperson Linda Sevison said the company does not discuss security procedures but that IDOC had given them permission to use lock-in, lock-out in March. Sevison had not seen the May 26 letter.
The IDOC letter was sent the same week that another ICC inmate was taken to the hospital twice with serious head injuries. On May 19, an inmate with golf ball-sized lumps on his temple and the side of his head acknowledged he'd been assaulted on T-Pod and was taken to St. Luke's Regional Medical Center for emergency cranial surgery, according to ICC incident reports obtained by Boise Weekly. Three days later, ICC sent him to St. Alphonsus Regional Medical Center for further evaluation. The Ada County Sheriff's Office is investigating the incident and charges are pending.
The sheriff's office is also investigating an assault on May 24 when two inmates beat another inmate with a radio. On the day after Reinke sent the letter, a fight erupted during breakfast when an inmate threw milk and a food tray at another inmate. Other incidents reported in April and May include sharpened metal weapons found in the showers, a missing two-way radio, multiple fights, confiscated marijuana and homemade alcohol, and several uses of pepper spray against inmates.
After the American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal prisoner civil rights action against ICC and IDOC in March, alleging that guards at ICC allowed--and even encouraged--a culture of rampant violence among inmates, CCA replaced the warden and deputy warden at its Idaho facility, which is the largest prison in Idaho.
According to Reinke's May letter, interim warden Timothy Wengler--recently named permanent warden at ICC--implemented lock-in, lock-out when he took over in March. The result was a marked decrease in assaults at the prison.
At an April 1 meeting, Wengler told IDOC that he planned to ease the lock-in, lock-out protocol, "as housing units calmed down," and said that if he saw an increase in assaults he would re-impose the stricter standard. But as the number of assaults rose in April and May, the looser security standard remained in place.
The ACLU lawsuit details 23 assaults that attorneys claim were preventable and alleges that ICC was so violent that inmates call the prison "gladiator school." IDOC and CCA filed motions at the end of May to dismiss the lawsuit because plaintiffs did not exhaust the grievance procedure first and argued the grievances they did file do not relate to the complaints in the lawsuit.
The Prison Litigation Reform Act, which became law in 1996, requires inmates to exhaust their prison's specific grievance procedure before filing a lawsuit. Stephen Pevar, the lead ACLU attorney in the ICC lawsuit, said that prisons have benefitted immensely from the PLRA by having the vast majority of lawsuits dropped for failure to exhaust the grievance process first.
"They've literally profited by the PLRA, and they've had very little financial incentive to do the right thing," Pevar said, naming a half-dozen Idaho inmates whose lawsuits were recently dropped for failure to exhaust.
Pevar said they believe all named plaintiffs did follow administrative procedures prior to signing on with the class action lawsuit.