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