Printed on: November 27, 2012

Gladiator School graduates gangs

From the Lewiston Tribune

When shareholders meet with the directors and officers of Corrections Corporation of America, they don't ask whether the company is protecting the public safety.

They don't delve into whether prisoners get rehabilitated.

Nor do they inquire into inmate treatment.

And you can bet guarding the taxpayer's wallet isn't among the first two or three dozen stockholder concerns.

These are investors. They've placed their bets on CCA's ability to return a profit, deliver a dividend and produce shareholder value.

So the only answer they want is the one CCA delivered when it projected profits between $153.2 million and $161.2 million.

Likewise, ordinary Idahoans really don't ask too many questions about how CCA manages the Idaho Correctional Center south of Boise.

So what if the place is called a "gladiator school" because so much prisoner on prisoner violence goes unchecked by CCA's understaffed guards?

So what if there's a videotape showing inmates savagely beating prisoner Hanni Elabed while the guards looked on?

Who cares if inmate Marlin Riggs filed a $55 million lawsuit after inmates attacked him -- and CCA wrote a confidential check to shut him up and make his lawsuit disappear?

Who cares if CCA essentially agreed to virtually all of the claims an American Civil Liberties Union class action lawsuit made against it by agreeing to follow its contract with the state, hire more guards, investigate prisoner beatings, report all attacks to local police, improve the training of its employees and do a better job of keeping inmates out of harm's way?

Or that after you strip away CCA's business model -- which includes cherry picking the least troublesome and healthiest inmates for its prison population -- hiring out prison management to a private contractor probably isn't saving the state any money.

And if a new group of CCA inmates files another lawsuit alleging they were severely beaten in spite of the ACLU settlement, who would care? Would it surprise Idahoans to know that these prisoners accuse CCA of saving money -- and maximizing profits -- by hiring so few guards that they've turned the place over to prison gangs to maintain order?

Or that you can watch video tape of these gangs beating these plaintiffs for almost a minute before two or three guards stopped them?

Probably not.

After all, whatever these people did to get themselves convicted and sentenced to prison, they remain no threat to the rest of us on the outside.

Until you read the latest wrinkle in the lawsuit:

With security so tenuous at the Idaho lock-up, prisoners are compelled to join gangs such as the Aryan Knights and the Severely Violent Criminals to guarantee their survival. But their obligation to the gangs doesn't end with time served.

"An obvious and foreseeable side effect of CCA's policy of empowering and rewarding gangs in its prisons is that prison gangs can recruit inside prison and flourish outside of prison once gang members have served their sentences -- wreaking havoc in our community," the plaintiff inmates allege in their lawsuit.

It's bad enough someone emerges from an Idaho prison stigmatized, unable to get a decent job and hardened by the realities of confinement. The odds aren't stacked in favor of his becoming a model, productive citizen.

Now you have the prospect of folding him into a criminal network on the outside. It could be a chimera. Gang activity is subject to hype. But there are cases -- California's Mexican Mafia, for instance -- of prison-based gangs getting established on the outside.

But it could be more. Idaho already has more than its share of gang members. The FBI's 2011 Gang Assessment puts Idaho at the top of the pyramid because it, along with California, Nevada, New Mexico and Illinois, has more than six gang members per 1,000 people.

Plus it has a large number of parolees. One of every 18 Idaho adults either is in prison or on parole -- what the Pew Center on the States says is the second highest in the nation.

Lots of gangs. Lots of parolees. All you need is the incubator and nothing fills the bill like a privately managed prison.

This is no longer out of sight, out of mind. This is your home, your family, your business and your community CCA is putting at risk.

Don't expect CCA's stockholders to break a sweat about it.

But you'd hope Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter and Idaho legislators might step in -- wouldn't you?