Three years ago, the new administration of Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter and many legislators were talking up the idea of Idaho's next major prison being a private-sector operation. Imagine the potential savings, proponents said then. Maybe eventually Idaho could get out of the bricks-and-mortar corrections business altogether, says the Twin Falls (Id.) Times-News in an editorial. That was before Idaho got to know the Corrections Corporation of America better. For nearly a decade, CCA has operated the 2,000-inmate Idaho Correctional Center – easily the most trouble-prone prison in the state's history.
Yesterday, the Associated Press reported that the state is fining CCA more than $40,000 and ordering it to fix problems with drug and alcohol treatment and medical care at ICC. Ten of 13 drug and alcohol counselors at the lockup aren't qualified to provide treatment under CCA's contract with the state. In March, the American Civil Liberties Union sued CCA – and the state – claiming violence is so rampant at the ICC that it's known as “gladiator school” among inmates. The lawsuit claimed Idaho's only private prison is extraordinarily violent, with guards deliberately exposing inmates to brutal beatings from other prisoners as a management tool. The ACLU’s Stephen Pevar said he has sued at least 100 jails and prisons, but none came close to the level of violence at Idaho Correctional Center. “Our country should be ashamed to send human beings to that facility,” he said. Not many legislators have much appetite anymore for another ICC-style facility in the state. There's much more enthusiasm for alternative sentencing and drug, alcohol and mental-health courts to keep Idaho's inmate numbers as low as possible.