By Rebecca Boone
BOISE, Idaho — The American Civil Liberties Union is suing state prison officials and a private company, claiming violence is so rampant at the Idaho Correctional Center that it's known as "gladiator school" among inmates.
The ACLU said it would file the lawsuit Thursday against Nashville, Tenn.-based Corrections Corp. of America in U.S. District Court in Boise.
The lawsuit says Idaho's only private prison is extraordinarily violent, with guards deliberately exposing inmates to brutal beatings from other prisoners as a management tool.
The group contends the prison then denies injured inmates medical care to save money and hide the extent of injuries.
Linda Sevison, the company's public information officer for the prison, said she had not yet heard about the lawsuit and could not immediately comment.
Steven Conry, company vice president of facility operations, previously maintained the prison is a safe and well-run facility.
Officials with the Idaho Department of Correction did not immediately return a message seeking comment.
Stephen Pevar, senior attorney for the ACLU, said he has sued at least 100 jails and prisons, but none came close to the level of violence at Idaho Correctional Center.
"Our country should be ashamed to send human beings to that facility," he said.
The ACLU is asking for class-action status and $155 million in punitive damages - the entire net profit reported by the company in 2009.
The ACLU says the money should go to lead plaintiff Marlin Riggs, who sustained permanent facial deformities and other medical problems after he was savagely beaten in his cell.
Guards use violence to control prisoner behavior, forcing inmates to "snitch" on other inmates under the threat of moving them to the most violent sections of the prison, ACLU-Idaho executive director Monica Hopkins says.
Hopkins says inmates will be beaten by fellow inmates if they become known as a snitch. If they refuse to give up names, the guards will have them beaten anyway, she says.
"It doesn't do us any good as a society to put people in there where they have to turn to other gangs and become gang members to protect themselves," she said. "The thing is, there's a constitutional duty to protect prisoners from violence at the hands of other prisoners."
The lawsuit also refers to an investigation by The Associated Press based on public records requests that found the level of violence at the prison was much higher than other Idaho prisons, and that Idaho Department of Correction officials believed it was also dramatically underreported by Corrections Corp. of America and inmates.
At the time of that report, Conry maintained the prison is safe and well run.