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GEO Group Prison Squalor Drives Idaho Prisoner to Suicide: $100,000 Settlement

On September 13, 2009, the Idaho Department of Corrections (IDOC) reached a settlement with the parents of an Idaho state prisoner who was driven to suicide by squalid conditions at a GEO Group-run private prison in Texas, where he had been transferred. The IDOC agreed to pay the prisoner’s estate $100,000.

In August 2006, Idaho prisoner Scott Noble Payne arrived at the Dickenson County Correctional Center (DCCC) in Spur, Texas, along with 125 other prisoners who had been shipped to the GEO Group prison by the IDOC. Dismayed by the deplorable conditions at DCCC, Payne escaped but was recaptured a week later and returned to the facility. Placed in solitary confinement under suicide watch, Payne languished in filthy conditions until he committed suicide on March 4, 2007.

In letters to his family Payne had repeatedly cited the squalid conditions at DCCC, which he said were making his life unbearable and driving him to kill himself. [See: PLN, Dec. 2007, p.23].

As representatives of his estate, Payne’s parents filed a civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in Idaho federal court. They alleged that Idaho officials had violated Payne’s Fourteenth Amendment due process rights and sub-jected him to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment. The lawsuit also raised tort claims under state law.

The complaint quoted Don Stockman, the IDOC’s Health Care Director, who had performed an on-site evaluation at DCCC after Payne’s death. Stockman said the prison was “the worst correctional facility I have ever visited. The physical plant is filthy, and does not provide a safe and secure setting for either inmates or staff. Custody staff appear to possess only the basic knowledge required to work in a prison setting. The administration and custody staff, from the Warden on down, project an open contempt for inmates and express little concern for the dire living conditions of the inmates.”

Stockman concluded that “Based on a verbal statement made by Warden Alford it is clear that his management style is based on verbal and physical [intimidation] of the inmates he is mandated to provide protective custodial care. It is difficult to comprehend how the contract provider, ‘GEO, Inc.,’ could not have been aware of the deplorable conditions that exist at DCCC or the behavior of Warden Alford and his staff. Warden Alford has created a negative prison culture that is deeply ingrained and will remain long after he no longer is Warden. Basically, DCCC is a facility that is beyond repair or correction.”

Faced with this damning statement by an IDOC official and similar evaluations by their own experts, Idaho opted to settle the lawsuit for $100,000, including attorney fees. Payne’s estate was represented by Boise attorney William Breck Seiniger, Jr. Details of the settlement other than the amount were confidential. See: Payne v. Sandy, U.S.D.C. (D. Idaho), Case No. 4:09-cv-00089-BLW.

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Related legal case

Payne v. Sandy

Please see the brief bank for documents related to this case.