A major private prison company is asking a federal judge to throw out a lawsuit over prison violence in Idaho, saying the inmates bringing the case didn’t try to solve their problems through administrative channels before they turned to the courts.
Lawyers for Corrections Corporation of America told U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill on Wednesday that the inmates didn’t complete the grievance process at the CCA-run Idaho Correctional Center, so they are barred under federal court rules from suing the company.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing the inmates, says the prisoners took all the necessary steps and that Nashville, Tenn.-based CCA failed to fix the problems at the Boise lockup.
The inmates asked for class-action status in the lawsuit earlier this year, saying ICC is so violent that it’s known as “gladiator school” and prison workers used inmate-on-inmate violence as a management tool, then refused to provide x-rays to injured prisoners as part of a cover-up scheme. CCA has denied the claims.
Winmill said he’ll try to decide whether the case will be dismissed or split up, or whether it will move forward as-is, within the next few weeks.
At issue is the Prison Litigation Reform Act, or PLRA, a 1996 federal law that sought to discourage inmates from filing frivolous lawsuits. The act governs judges’ actions in inmate rights cases, and in part requires that inmates prove they tried to solve the problem by complaining to prison authorities first.
CCA attorney Dan Struck said the PLRA also bars the main plaintiff in the case, Marlin Riggs, from adding additional inmates to his lawsuit.
If Winmill agrees, the inmates could all be forced to file separate lawsuits, or they could be required to start over under the prison’s sometimes lengthy grievance process before filing a new lawsuit seeking class-action status.
“The PLRA doesn’t give them any wiggle room here,” Struck told the judge. “They chose to cobble this action onto the Riggs case and I’m not sure why.”
Besides, Struck said, he believes that only a few of the inmates properly exhausted CCA’s grievance procedures before the lawsuit was filed. That would mean the rest of the claims — including complaints that CCA provided inadequate medical care, failed to protect inmates from harm, and that the prison was too crowded to give inmates safe quarters — all must be dismissed.
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