ACLU lawsuit prompts Idaho prison warden switch

March 18, 2010

The ACLU is suing CCA over claims of brutal inmate-on-inmate violence

BOISE, Idaho — The Corrections Corporation of America is replacing the top two officials at Idaho’s only private prison after the American Civil Liberties Union sued over claims of brutal inmate-on-inmate violence, state corrections officials said Wednesday.

Idaho Department of Correction Director Brent Reinke said in a memo to department staffers that the company will name a new warden and assistant warden at the Idaho Correctional Center near Boise.

The announcement comes just days after the ACLU filed a lawsuit asking for class-action status and $155 million in damages, alleging the prison is extremely violent and that guards deliberately expose inmates to beatings from other prisoners as a management tool. It names both the company and the state department.

In the lawsuit filed March 11, the ACLU said the prison was so violent it was known as “gladiator school” among inmates and that guards denied medical care and X-rays to the injured prisoners as a way to save money and hide the extent of their injuries.

Steve Owen, the prison company’s director of public affairs, said former warden Phillip Valdez and former assistant warden Dan Prado both remain employed with the company and would be reassigned.

He said Timothy Wengler, who has been with CCA since 1996 and most recently worked as interim warden at the Prairie Correctional Facility in Appleton, Minn., would serve as interim warden at the Idaho lockup until a permanent warden is named.

Owen said CCA initiated the management change with the support of Idaho officials.

In his memo, Reinke said his department has three monitors in charge of overseeing CCA’s contract to run the Idaho Correctional Center, and that state experts would be available to help the prison safely adjust to a new warden and assistant warden.

“The Idaho Department of Correction supports this change and will assist in any way needed as the facility transitions to new leadership,” he wrote.

Under the contract, CCA will recommend a new warden and assistant warden, who will be approved or rejected by the Department of Correction.

Last week, Owen said the company would respond to the lawsuit through court filings and noted that state officials have unfettered access to the prison and are onsite daily to monitor its management.

“For the past decade, CCA has safely and securely managed the Idaho Corrections Center on behalf of our government partner, the Idaho Department of Corrections,” Owen said in a statement. “Our hardworking, professional staff and management team are held accountable to high standards by our government partner, to include those of the American Correctional Association _ the highest professional standards in the country for correctional management.”

ACLU-Idaho Executive Director Monica Hopkins said she didn’t have any comment on the changes at this time.

By Rebecca Boone
Associated Press