BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A gang war that appears to have taken over parts of an Idaho private prison is spilling into the federal courts, with some inmates contending prison officials are ceding control to gang leaders in an effort to save money on staffing.
Eight inmates at the Idaho Correctional Center are suing the Corrections Corporation of America, contending the company is working with a few powerful prison gangs to control the facility south of Boise.
The lawsuit, filed Friday in Boise's U.S. District Court, paints the prison as a place where correctional officers work in fear of angering inmate gang members and where housing supervisors ask permission from gang leaders before moving anyone new into an empty cell. The inmates also contend that CCA officials use gang violence and the threat of gang violence as an "inexpensive device to gain control over the inmate population," according to the lawsuit, and that housing gang members together allows the company to use fewer guards, reducing payroll costs.
"The complaint alleges that CCA fosters and develops criminal gangs," attorney Wyatt Johnson, who along with T.J. Angstman represents the inmates, said in a statement. "Ideally, the lawsuit should force this to come to an end."
The inmates point to investigative reports from the Idaho Department of Correction that suggest gangs like the Aryan Knights and the Severely Violent Criminals were able to wrest control from staff members after prison officials began housing members of the same gangs together in some cellblocks to reduce violent clashes.
The power shift meant a prison staffer had to negotiate the placement of new inmates with gang leaders, according to the department reports, and that prison guards were afraid to enforce certain rules.
Corrections Corporation of America, the nation's largest private prison company, says its top priority is the safety and security of its prisons, employees and inmates.
"We take all allegations seriously and act swiftly if our standards have not been met," spokesman Steve Owen said in a statement. "... At all times, we are held to the highest standards of accountability and transparency by our government partners, and expect to be."
Owen said the Nashville, Tenn.-based company has operated the Idaho prison in partnership with the state correction department for more than a decade, providing housing and rehabilitation for "some of the state's most challenging inmate populations."
Both Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter's spokesman Jon Hanian and state Corrections Department spokesman Jeff Ray declined to comment because of the litigation, though neither the state nor the department is named as a defendant. The Idaho Correctional Center is the largest prison in the state, with an operating capacity of 2,080 beds.
The inmates also cite security footage of a violent gang attack carried out in May, which they say shows CCA staffers failed to follow basic safety and security policies.
The video, filed with the lawsuit, shows six members of the Aryan Knights prison gang jumping out of a janitor supply closet to attack seven members of a rival gang. The Aryan Knights in the video are armed with knives and other weapons made out of toothbrushes, drawer pulls and other materials.