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Confidential Report Reveals Rampant Violence at CCA-Run Idaho Prison

FIN has gained access to a confidential report by Tim Higgins, the Investigation and Intelligence Coordinator for the Idaho Department of Corrections (DOC) regarding rampant prisoner-on-prison violence at the Idaho Correctional Center (ICC), a Boise prison operated by Corrections Corporation of America. The report blamed the extraordinarily high level of violence at ICC--which has four incidents of violence forever one in the entire rest of the prison system--on CCA's failure to suppress gang activity or investigate and prosecute incidences of prison violence.

The report dealt with 105 incidents of violence which occurred at ICC between January 1, 2008 and August 5, 2008, for which Incident/Exercise Notification Report forms were completed. Higgins reviewed those forms and the rest of the investigation files. He also interviewed the prisoners involved in the violence and reviewed what kind of corrective measures had been taken.

The report revealed a pattern of gang-driven violence which fell into four categories: simple battery (34 incidents), aggravated battery (18 incidents), extortion for rent (15 incidents), and extortion to force prisoners to assault other prisoners (5 incidents).

Generally, extortion for rent involved weaker prisoners, mainly sex offenders, being beaten and all their consumable commissary being taken. Victims were normally told to move out of the housing area or pay monthly rent. Rent was typically $10 per month, but could be paid for by sexual acts. Failure to comply resulted in multiple beatings until compliance was achieved. "The assailant in most cases was not a gang member but someone being forced to commit the act by the gang. This practice was predominately used by the Aryan gangs. Aryan gang members were typically present during these beatings to ensure they were done as instructed but seldom joined in the beating. Proceeds were turned over to gang leaders who divided them among members."

Extortion to force prisoners to assault other prisoners usually occurred when a prisoner was approached by several Aryan gang members and told to beat up another specified prisoner, take all of that prisoner's property and turn it over to the gang. Refusal would result in the immediate beating of the approached prisoner and theft of all his consumable property. If the approached prisoner reported the incident to staff, the gang would retaliate. It had members throughout the prison, so a change of housing would not ensure safety. Some approached prisoners were eventually given a share of the take and allowed to join the gang, making it a form of forced recruitment.

Aggravated battery, involving the use of weapons, multiple assailants or serious injury to the victim, were almost always committed by known gang members. This was especially true when multiple assailants attacked a single victim. Reasons for aggravated battery varied, but included retaliation for informing staff of gang activity or failing to obey gang instructions, internal gang discipline and being a gang member assigned to a living area dominated by a rival gang.

Simple battery is the use of violence against another individual without the use of a weapon. The reasons for simple battery varied widely and often merely involved a dispute or disagreement between two prisoners. However, some were suspected of involving retaliation by a gang member or a prisoner being forced to assault another prisoner. A little less than half of the simple battery cases involved at least one known gang members.

In July 2008 alone, there were 17 batteries at ICC. What did CCA officials do wrong at ICC that allowed conditions to deteriorate to this level? The report lists nine errors as follows. (1) Failing to refer incidents that were clearly criminal acts, such as robbery, extortion, assault or battery to the Ada County Sheriff's Office for criminal prosecution. No crimes at ICC were reported to the sheriff's office in 2008. (2) Watering down disciplinary offenses so that assaulting prisoners are only charged with "horseplay" or "intentional injury" or "simple battery". No one at ICC was foynd guilty of "aggravated assault" or "aggravated battery" in 2008. (3) Retaining prisoners in medium custody who should have been moved to close custody. (4) Poor quality of video recordings making identification of assailants difficult. (5) Failing to investigate all incidents of violence. Higgins discovered eight additional violent incidents for which there were no investigation reports. (6) Failure to route protective custody investigation reports to the official investigating the violent incident. (7) A lack of coordination between various investigating offices. (8) A poorly organized filing system being used by the investigations office. (9) Failure to suppress gang activities. "Gang members have been able to operate openly with little fear of being held accountable."

In a confidential letter, DOC Virtual Prison Program Warden Randy Blades strongly agreed with the report. He instructed ICC officials to immediately report major crimes to Ada County, develop a behavior modification method aimed at reducing violence at ICC (including the proper use of disciplinary action and custody-level classification), conduct more thorough and better documented investigations of violent incidents at ICC, and modify operations to make staff more vigilant at preventing prisoner-on-prisoner violence. He also required CCA to formally respond to the report and his letter.

Once again, we can see that CCA has dropped the ball. Private prisons have many reasons for maintaining a facade of not having problems with gangs or violence which might cause their contracts to some under scrutiny. It is yet another reason that private prisons are a bad idea whose time has gone.

Sources: IDOC Assaults Report dated August 7, 2008; Letter from Randy Blades to ICC Warden Phillip Valdez dated August 28, 2008

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