Printed on: May 25, 2013

What's this? More upheaval at Idaho's 'Gladiator School?'

From the Lewiston Tribune

Corrections Corporation of America -- the people who gave you Idaho's 2,100-bed "gladiator school" -- is sending its third warden to the Idaho Correctional Center near Boise in as many years.

First went Phillip Valdez, whose departure in 2010 came after CCA essentially admitted violating its contract with the state of Idaho when it settled an inmate class action lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union.

Valdez's replacement, Timothy Wengler, retired last week, although CCA says it was a personal decision that had nothing to do with how his administration falsified nearly 5,000 hours of staffing records last year.

It's the latest piece of upheaval involving a prison that is responsible for:

Inmate violence that occurs three times more often than in the prisons Idaho manages on its own.

A videotaped incident of inmate Hanniu Elabed being beaten while guards looked on.

Allegations that CCA has turned to gangs to police portions of the prison.

Confidential settlements in which CCA hands over sums of money to injured inmates who bring lawsuits against it.

Arguably, the last thing you need in such a setting is more instability at the top. Few positions vest more authority in a single individual than that of a prison warden. He occupies the pinnacle of a quasi-military unit. Often, what he says goes -- whether it's policy or personnel decisions.

But turnover is what you get in a private prison and CCA has a history of playing "musical wardens" in other jurisdictions. Because corporations aren't subject to public records laws, you can't be sure whether the warden you get today was somebody's problem in another institution.

At the very least, anyone taking the helm at ICC likely will face a steep learning curve. The next warden will move to Idaho and start from scratch.

But that is not the pattern elsewhere in Idaho's prison system.

In fact, that system is steeped with institutional memory. Virtually everyone at the top started at the bottom. Most have been in the Idaho prison system for decades. Idaho is second-nature to them.

All of this is a matter of public record. And if you request the backgrounds of Idaho's public prison wardens, here's what you'll find:

Shannon Cluney, the warden at South Boise Women's Correctional Center, has spent 26 years with the state prisons department. He started as a correctional officer and worked his way up at the Idaho State Correctional Institution and the Idaho Maximum Security Institution.

Al Ramirez, the new Idaho Maximum Security Institution warden, has 20 years on the job. He also began as a correctional officer and worked at both the Idaho State Correctional Institution and the maximum security prison. His most recent post was as emergency preparedness coordinator.

Randy Blades, the new warden of the Idaho State Correctional Institution, is a 25-year veteran who most recently served as warden of the maximum security prison. He also served as commander of the Correctional Emergency Response Team and created the units responsible for monitoring employee misconduct and the private prisons holding Idaho inmates.

Nancy Espeseth, warden at the Pocatello Women's Correctional Center, joined the agency 14 years ago as a correctional officer at the Twin Falls Community Work Center before switching to probation and parole. She most recently served as a district manager in Idaho Falls.

Jim Woolf, warden at the St. Anthony Work Camp, has 23 years on the job. He started as a correctional officer in 1990 and most recently served as warden at the Pocatello Women's Correctional Center.

Steve Little, warden of the South Idaho Correctional Institution, has a two-decade-long resume that includes serving as warden at the St. Anthony Work Camp as well as leadership posts in security, special projects and pre-release programs.

Lynn Guyer, warden at the North Idaho Correctional Institution since 2003, joined the department in 1986, serving much of that time in probation and parole.

Terema Carlin, warden of the Idaho Correctional Institution Orofino since 2008, signed on as a correctional officer in 1997 and alternated between Cottonwood and Orofino.

They have one more thing in common. They answer to you, not some Tennessee-based corporation that makes a profit from the misery of others.