Idaho Fines Private Prison for Contract Violations

The state is ordering private prison company Correction Corporation of America to pay thousands of dollars and fix problems with drug and alcohol treatment and medical care at the Idaho Correctional Center.

Ten of 13 drug and alcohol counselors at the prison near Boise aren’t qualified to provide treatment under CCA’s contract with the state, according to records obtained by The Associated Press.

Additionally, a medical audit by Idaho Department of Correction officials earlier this year shows the private prison has extensive problems administering medical care, including inadequate records; delays in providing medications, immunizations and mental health care; and a lack of follow-up or oversight when inmates are returned to the lockup after being hospitalized.

The state ordered CCA to provide it with a plan to fix the medical care problems by May 25, but the company has already missed that deadline.

Idaho is also imposing liquidated damages against CCA for violating its state contract by failing to have qualified drug and alcohol counselors. The damages rack up at a rate of more than $2,600 a day; so far, CCA owes the state more than $40,000 for the violations.

“We’re very concerned,” said Rona Siegert, director of Idaho Department of Correction Health Services. “That’s the whole purpose of the audit, to find these things before they get to a level where they’re critical.”

Nashville, Tenn.-based CCA responded to questions about the problems through a prepared statement.

“Regarding the findings of recent medical audits completed by the Idaho Department of Corrections at Idaho Correctional Center, we acknowledge and share the concerns of our government partner and take them seriously. While the identified issues are not at a critical stage, we are working actively and deliberately to quickly and effectively resolve them,” the company said.

CCA also said it is trying to hire qualified staffers for its drug and alcohol rehabilitation program.

“Our efforts to recruit qualified and credentialed addiction, alcohol and drug professionals from the available pool of local candidates continue. We are confident that these efforts will result in our company being in compliance in the near term with a fully credentialed Therapeutic Community staff, as local qualified professionals seek employment opportunities.”

Company officials also said several staff members are set to undergo certification testing in the coming months. But Natalie Warner, the Idaho Department of Correction’s contract administrator and quality assurance manager, said that under the schedule CCA provided for its current employees, the last of the certifications won’t be completed until June 2011. Meanwhile, CCA will have racked up more than $100,000 in liquidated damages.

In an April letter informing the private prison company of the issues, Idaho Department of Administration purchasing officer Jason Urquhart said the Correction Department feared that the drug and alcohol program violations could increase costs for the state.

Offenders often are required to complete the Therapeutic Community program to be released, so if the program’s integrity is compromised, offenders may have to stay in prison longer, increasing costs to the state, Urquhart wrote. He went on to say that the parole commission could require offenders to take part in drug and alcohol programs at other prisons — also increasing costs.

The medical audits, completed between February and April, suggest that in many cases, inmates are going without adequate care, Siegert said. Still, Siegert said the Correction Department didn’t know of any inmates who had suffered injury or harm because of the violations.

Among other problems found in the audits, inmates in the prison’s infirmary were sometimes left alone, without any working pager or call-light system to call a nurse or doctor in an emergency. They also were going too long between medical checks by nursing staff, according to the records.

“Our requirement is that a provider makes the rounds every day to see if they’re getting better or getting worse, what their vital signs are,” Siegert said.

Medical test results also languished unread for too long, raising the possibility that serious medical problems weren’t being addressed right away, Siegert said.

If the company doesn’t repair or adequately explain the audit findings, Idaho can impose liquidated damages for those violations as well.

“It’s going to stay on our radar and we’re going to continue watching it very closely,” Warner said.

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Idaho Man Sues Corrections Corporation of America

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A former inmate is suing a private prison company, saying guards watched as he was beaten by a fellow inmate in an attack that went on so long his assailant had time to stop and drink some water before continuing.

Attorneys for Hanni Elabed filed the lawsuit against the Correction Corporation of America in Boise’s U.S. District Court late last week, saying their client was left brain damaged and may never fully recover from the assault at the Idaho Correctional Center near Boise.

Elabed is asking for punitive damages and compensation in an amount to be proven in court.

Steven Owens, the public affairs director for CCA, said the Nashville, Tenn.-based company doesn’t comment on lawsuits other than through court filings.

According to the lawsuit, Elabed was serving time on a robbery conviction when he was beaten. His attorneys said at least three guards and another ICC staffer watched while he was stomped and kicked, and that they failed to intervene even when his attacker stopped for several minutes to get a drink and catch his breath.

The lawsuit echoes complaints lodged in other recent lawsuits against the company in which other Idaho inmates allege they were knowingly exposed to violence from other inmates and then denied proper medical care in an effort to cover up the extent of their injuries.

Elabed’s case, however, details what may be the most extreme allegations yet to come out of the state’s only private prison.

Elabed was 24 in 2008 and addicted to Oxycontin, when he pleaded guilty to robbery and was sentenced to two to 12 years in prison. He was transferred to the Idaho Correctional Center, where Elabed, who is Muslim and of Palestinian decent, told his family he was being harassed by inmates — including his cellmate — who were members of a white supremacist gang.

The lawsuit said the harassment escalated until his cellmate attacked Elabed and broke his jawbone. After that attack, Elabed was moved to another cellblock within the prison where he said the gang abused and threatened him.
The lawsuit said he tried to get help from prison staffers, telling them that he’d been threatened and giving them details about drug trafficking between inmates and staffers that he had witnessed.

That prompted ICC officials to move Elabed to administrative segregation for several days, according to the lawsuit, before moving him back into the same cellblock. Just before the move, Elabed told his parents that he believed several guards were planning to tell the other inmates that he had identified them as drug traffickers.

He was moved into the cellblock on Jan. 18 and within minutes of his arrival, he was attacked by one of the gang members “in plain view of video surveillance cameras and multiple ICC staff who passively observed from behind a window,” Elabed’s attorney, Benjamin Schwartzman, wrote.

The guards ordered all the inmates to their rooms, according to the lawsuit, leaving only Elabed and his assailant in the main area.

His attorney said the attacker then knocked Elabed to the floor and stomped on his head. He described the blows as “delivered with such ferocity and energy that the attacking gang member was forced to catch his breath and refresh himself at a drinking fountain, afterward.”

Elabed claimed that during the break, he managed to get up and pleaded with guards who continued to watch as his assailant resumed the attack.

The beating didn’t end until he was unconscious and convulsing in a pool of blood, the lawsuit said.

Elabed’s attorney said staffers had an ambulance take Elabed to a local hospital, where he was diagnosed with traumatic subarachnoid brain hemorrhage. They prevented the hospital from taking any pictures of Elabed’s injuries, the lawsuit said, and removed him after he was stabilized in an overnight stay.

His attorney said Elabed was returned to the hospital three days later after he was not given treatment at the prison. Elabed later was given a medical parole, his attorney said.

His attorney added that since the beating, his client gets confused easily, jumps at loud noises and can’t keep his attention focused. He soothes himself by rocking and rubbing his arms, and has significant mental impairment, Schwartzman said.

“We know that he was normal before. He was no honor student, but he could hold down a job. Now he gets confused trying to put his own clothes away …,” Schwartzman said.

The case is complicated in part because Elabed lost his memory of the beating and the events preceding it, Schwartzman said. His attorneys have had to rely on witness accounts to determine much of what happened but they said the stories are consistent.

The Ada County prosecutor has charged James Haver, an inmate serving time for aggravated assault and battery, with aggravated battery in connection with Elabed’s case. A preliminary hearing for Haver has been set for May.