Judge to open documents in Idaho prison lawsuit
Inmates contend the CCA-run prison was so violent that prisoners called it "Gladiator School"
By Rebecca Boone
BOISE, Idaho — A federal judge has ordered that several documents be unsealed in a lawsuit between Idaho inmates and Corrections Corporation of America just days before a hearing is set over whether the private prison company should be held in contempt of court.
Inmates at the Idaho Correctional Center, represented by the ACLU of Idaho, brought the lawsuit in 2010, contending the CCA-run prison was so violent that prisoners called it "Gladiator School."
CCA denied the allegations, but the two sides reached a deal requiring widespread staffing and safety changes. The settlement, which was made public, requires that parties try to resolve any disputes together before going back to court.
Late last year, the ACLU alleged the Nashville, Tenn.-based CCA was violating the terms of the agreement, and the two sides went into private mediation, during which virtually no records were included in the court file. Since the start of 2013, 19 documents — including four separate judges' orders — have been filed under seal in the case. There were no open motions, orders or other documents detailing the courts' justification for keeping the filings secret.
An order directing the inmates to be transported to the courthouse for an Aug. 7 hearing recently was included in the publicly available files, but at the time it was unclear if that hearing itself would be open to the public. According to the order, the hearing is being held so the judge can consider whether CCA breached the settlement or committed contempt of court for violating the agreement.
The newest order from U.S. District Judge David Carter, made public late last week, makes it clear that the hearing will be open and that only limited redactions will be allowed before the other documents in the case are unsealed.
Carter rejected arguments from CCA's attorneys that the ACLU was seeking to make the documents open only to promote a public scandal. The judge noted that CCA has acknowledged giving inaccurate staffing records to the Idaho Department of Correction and that it failed to meet the minimum staffing terms of its $29 million contract with the state of Idaho for several months in 2012.
CCA maintains the understaffing caused no safety issues at the prison.
"It is hardly private spite, promotion of public scandal, or libelous, to contend that CCA is wrong, and to submit sworn affidavits from past and current employees in support of that argument," Carter wrote. "Idaho taxpayers pay CCA to operate one of their prisons. With public money comes a public concern about how that money is spent. Such a public interest cannot be swatted away by calling it a desire for 'public spectacle' or a form of 'private spite' or any of the other labels that CCA offers."
CCA has been the subject of multiple lawsuits from Idaho inmates, including one filed last year that also alleges understaffing at the Idaho Correctional Center. In that case, a group of inmates claim that because of the understaffing, prison gangs have gained more control inside prison walls, and that both issues led to an incident where they were jumped, beaten and badly injured by a group of gang members.
In that case, CCA's attorneys have asked for a broad protective order that would give the company the ability to keep a wide range of documents under seal, for security, privacy or business reasons. A coalition of 17 news organizations, including The Associated Press, have filed a motion asking to intervene in that case for the limited purpose of trying to keep the court documents open to the public. U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge has yet to rule on the motion.