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Corrections Corporation of America Hit with $3 Million Abuse Verdict

On Dec 14, 2000, a federal jury in South Carolina awarded a 14-year-old boy more than $3 million in damages after finding Tennessee-based Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) guilty of physically abusing the Charleston, SC teen-ager.

In 1996, William Pacetti, then 14, was sent to CCA on charges that he disturbed a school bus, threatened a school official and disturbed a school. He was held at the CCA facility in Richland, (South Carolina between July 1, 1996 and January 20, 1997. It was during that incarceration that guards at the privately run Juvenile prison hog-tied and maced Pacetti and then threw him against a wall. Pacetti, now 18, then sued CCA alleging use of excessive force. He was represented by attorney Gaston Fairey of Columbia, South Carolina.

At trial the jury found that CCA had an official policy and/or custom" of engaging in the acts that led to charges here. The jury decided that CCA had a corporate policy of using excessive force to control the teens sent to its Richland facility.

And this apparently was not an isolated incident. The verdict could open the door for 21 other teens who have filed excessive force suits against CCA. Fairey also represents several of the other former prisoner who have filed suits.

CCA attorney James Cooper said that the company made big mistakes," but that it is not an evil empire. They are not in the business of abusing children," he claimed. Cooper tried to convince the jury that any damages would only serve to enrich the teenager who sued.

The jury obviously disagreed. The jury awarded Pacetti $125,000 in compensatory damages and then returned the following day to consider whether to assess punitive damages" against CCA They deliberated 3.5 hours before awarding Pacetti $3 million as punishment against CCA. Pacetti's lawyer, though, had asked the jury to award Pacetti punitive damage totaling $140 million, qual to 10% of CCA's $1.4 billion net worth.

Fairey and Pacetti's other attorney Wayne Ritchie said that, As far as we can determine, this [verdict] is the first of its kind. This company should not be in business, let alone taking care of children.
The S.C. Department of Juvenile Justice, which had signed a three-years deal with CCA in 1996 to run the prison, decided not to renew the contract after the first year. The company has about 70 prisons in the United States and in other countries, according to its lawyers.

It is unclear whether CCA will appeal this verdict. See: William P., by and through his Guardian ad Litem, Lesly A. Bowers v. Corrections Corporation of America, #3:98-290-17, USDC S.C., Columbia Division.

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Related legal case

William P. v. Corrections Corporation of America