Who’s Monitoring the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA)?

Written by on December 23, 2010 in Detention, Immigration and Customs Enforcement with 3 Comments

Last month, the Associated Press reported that a video obtained by their reporters showed Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) prison guards watching prisoners fight in an Idaho prison, ignoring the pleas of the prisoner being beaten, Hanni Elabed. While this was not an immigration detention facility, CCA operates many detention facilities under contract from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). ICE needs to look closely at this incident and others reported this year and reassess whether they will continue to risk housing immigration detainees in CCA facilities.

The AP Reported:

The videos show at least three guards watching as Elabed was stomped on a dozen times. At no time during the recorded sequence did anyone try to pull away James Haver, a short, slight man.

About two minutes after Haver stopped the beating of his own accord, the metal cellblock door was unlocked. Haver was handcuffed and Elabed was examined for signs of life. He bled inside his skull and would spend three days in a coma.

A federal prosecutor in Idaho has launched a civil rights investigation at the prison, likely focusing on claims that CCA used inmate violence to force prisoners to snitch on one another or be moved to extremely violent units within the prison. Also troubling is the surveillance video showing what was apparently a violation of state and federal safety standards by CCA which requires that emergency care arrive within four minutes of a disturbance. In the video, it took emergency care almost six minutes to arrive, further threatening Elabed’s life.

This is, unfortunately, not the first safety issue a CCA facility has had this year. Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear was forced to transfer 400 female inmates to a state-run prison because of dozens of reports of sexual misconduct by male guards at a CCA facility. In June, we blogged about an ICE investigation into whether a guard at a detention center sexually assaulted women on their way to being deported—a situation that was only possible because of a direct violation of ICE safety policy. ICE responded by putting CCA on probation, but continued issues in CCA facilities should prompt ICE to take further action.

The Department of Homeland Security and ICE must be careful to keep moving forward on detention reforms without suffering even more setbacks. Perhaps this is a place where they can afford to be proactive. To be sure, there is a danger in assigning blame to an organization that operates hundreds of prisons because of an incident at one, but this is not the first issue at a CCA facility. CCA facilities seemingly suffer from a multitude of issues, and it might be time to find a different company to contract with, or bring more detention facilities under ICE’s own umbrella. While there is a danger in assuming that a few incidents are endemic of a larger issue within CCA facilities, ICE cannot afford another setback in the long road that is detention reform.

Photo by Jonathan McIntosh

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  • Kathleen Davy

    There is currently no enforceable code for Homeland security to use or is mandated to use to provide at the very least Geneva Convention rights to people who have committed nothing worse than crossing a border to try and provide for their families in a land that was traditionally theirs to begin with?

  • Skeptic

    While CCA is notorious for is lax procedures in hiring and supervising its poorly trained, low paid guards, this is assuredly about collusion among guards. The guards have used neo-Nazi skinheads as surrogates to assault other inmates, for sport or revenge. There have been at least 20 incidents in this prison where the guards “accidentally” opened cell doors to let attackers in or out.

    There is a class action case that presently is being brought by the Idaho ACLU on behalf of dozens of inmates subjected to beatings in this fashion in what was called the “Gladiator School.”

    The subject of this story was a Muslim inmate who was sentenced for a holdup in which he used a BB gun in an attempt to get prescription drugs. He had informed on CCA staff who were colluding with skinheads to smuggle drugs into the prison. He was ruthlessly attacked by a neo-Nazi while four CCA staffers stood idly by a few feet away and refused to open a door so that the badly injured inmate could escape his attacker. The beating was so savage that his assailant had to stop and rest in the middle of it, sitting and taking a drink of water, before he resumed the vicious beating. Elabed was effectively lobotomized by the beating and will never recover his ability even to care for himself.

    In March the warden and assistant warden in Boise were transferred out of the line of fire by CCA, the warden going to the CCA for-profit pen in the town of Leavenworth, Kansas as assistant warden. The Boise assistant warden was sent to take the same position in Pahrump, Nevada, in an immigrant prison where a contract was issued to CCA for $137 million for five years, even though there was no federal need for it and it was the most expensive alternative if indeed there had actually been a need. The provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act were consistently and deliberately violated in the siting of that prison.

    There is a more recent case than the chronic beatings at Boise. Eighteen Hawaiian prisoners were brutally assaulted by guards at a CCA Eloy, Arizona prison and are suing for the assaults and threats to them and even their families. CCA had promoted one employee to warden there, despite the man having killed another motorist while driving drunk. An Eloy guard was killed during a home invasion and drug heist after he threatened to kill a neighbor who had been attracted by the commotion. Another CCA guard in the county was hired after murdering his wife and leaving his former CCA post in Appleton, Minnesota to escape prosecution. One CCA supervisor said that the only background checks that were being done on the high-turnover staff were for open warrants, rather than criminal histories.

    The sad truth is that the corporation can get away with this malfeasance by simply buying off politicians and bureaucrats. Governor Otter of Idaho and Brewer of Arizona owe their elections in no small part due to substantial CCA campaign contributions and, in Brewer’s case, considerable hands-on assistance from for-profit prison industry lobbyists.

  • Daniel

    I was currently released from the CCA in Kuna, Idaho. While I was an inmate there I witnessed the wrongfull treatment of inmates by Warden Valdez and Asst. Waredn Prodo. It is true that they used inmate on inmate violance as a tool of controling certain inmates. When those two were moved out of that facility the level of violance declined slitley. The new Warden is more of a hands on person and seems to actually care how the facillity he is incharge of is ran.
    I also noticed that the medical staff has greatly improved since the changing of the medical director. One thing I have to point out about medical is that they are refusing to pay the bills at the hospital down town. I currently recived a bill totaling $4,531.50 for services provided while I was an inmate at ICC. When I contacted the claims dept. of St. Lukes hospital they informed me that CCA was refusing to pay the bill and informed them that I was infact responsible for the bill. I took it upon myself to look into the other Doctors that I had been treated by and learned that I was also being taken to collections by their office. In CCA’s contract with the Idaho Department of Corrections they are responsible for all medical bills of inmates in their custody. This is just another way that this company is passing off their obligations. Just think this is only one inmate, imagine how many more inmates are going to be released with out standing debts and no way to pay them.
    This company was fined last year for not having licenced counslers on staff. They would promote officers to the position of counslers, which causes inmates to not get proper help when going to required classes. Some people may just think this is no big deal but they need to stop and realize that this is a big deal, they are paying this company several Millions every year to do a service that they are not performing.

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