Idaho investigates private prison

BOISE, Idaho — The Idaho State Police has launched an investigation into staffing levels at the state’s largest private prison after state officials said they found discrepancies in the prison’s monthly reports.

The Nashville, Tenn.-based Corrections Corporation of America has run the Idaho Correctional Center under a contract with the state for a decade. The contract details the way CCA must run the prison. The minimum staffing requirements have also been spelled out in a legal settlement that CCA reached with the American Civil Liberties Union-Idaho after inmates sued in federal court.

Correction Director Brent Reinke told the Idaho Board of Correction Tuesday morning he asked the state police to investigate because the department found “potential anomalies” during an audit.

The department didn’t begin taking a deeper look until recently, around the time The Associated Press filed public records requests for shift logs at the prison.

CCA’s spokesman Steve Owen said in an email that his company is also investigating the issue and working with state officials as the department takes a closer look at the staffing records. He said the safety of staff, inmates and the community is CCA’s top priority.

“It is premature and speculative to draw conclusions before all of the facts have been gathered, and to do so at this point would undermine the investigation that is taking place. If our efforts uncover inconsistencies, we will take swift action to rectify any issues,” Owen wrote.

CCA’s monthly staffing reports to the state obtained by the AP through a public records request appeared to show guards who were listed as working 24, 36 and 48 hours straight without time off. Though CCA’s contract with Idaho doesn’t limit the number of hours a guard can work in a row, correction officials said that it would be unwise for a guard to work a 36- or 48-hour shift.

The department doesn’t have the staffing or expertise needed to do the investigation on its own, Reinke said.

“We need some outside assistance on what we think we’ve found,” Reinke told the board members, though he didn’t offer any details. Reinke said he’s had three visits already with the head of the Idaho State Police and written the agency a letter formally requesting the investigation.

“The contract requires specific staffing levels to ensure the safe operation of the 2,060-bed prison,” Reinke wrote in a letter given to Idaho State Police Lt. Col. Ralph Powell on Monday. “This letter seeks an independent party to investigate and audit these records to determine the extent of the problem and any potential violation of state law.”

Powell has already agreed to investigate, Reinke said.

“He considers this an issue now under investigation. We are working through our staff with his staff to be able to transfer documents off,” Reinke said. “The Idaho State Police will take it to the next level as far as that’s concerned.”

CCA has also hired its own independent investigator to review policies at the prison, Idaho Department of Correction officials said in a news release issued Tuesday afternoon.

Reports filed by the state correction agency’s own contract monitors and obtained by The AP show that the contractor monitors spotted problems such as double-posting — having one guard work two separate posts at the same time — and vacant security posts at least a year ago, but the department didn’t begin taking a deeper look until recently, around the same time the AP filed public records requests for shift logs at the prison.

Reinke said he knows the timing looks odd, but the department recognized it needed to more closely monitor staffing levels after putting together its new manual for state contract monitors. The 67-page manual, which took more than a year of research, planning and writing, was finalized in December.

Reinke, the department’s Bureau of Contract Services Deputy Chief Pat Donaldson, and Deputy Warden of Virtual Prisons Tim Higgins told the AP during a conference call last week that they couldn’t explain some of the inconsistencies in the monthly staffing reports and that they were looking deeper into the matter and asking CCA for additional documentation, including payroll records.

“We don’t know what we’re looking at here,” Reinke said about CCA’s staffing reports. “That’s why we’re trying to get more information.”

Reinke said the staffing reports represented CCA’s assurance to the department that the contractually required positions were being properly filled.

CCA’s contract with the state requires the company to keep 55 different security positions staffed during the 12-hour day shift, and 49 positions staff during the 12-hour night shift. The number of required positions used to be slightly less — until September 2011, when CCA made a number of management and operational changes at the prison in order to settle a lawsuit brought by inmates who contended that violence and mismanagement were rampant at the facility.

The state contract does limit the total number of hours a guard can work in any two-week pay period to 112 hours or less. CCA is required to give the state a monthly overtime report showing the total number of hours its employees work each pay period. But the department apparently never tried to reconcile the two types of documents, nor did they closely monitor the staffing reports.

An AP analysis of the documents for 2012 found several instances of inconsistencies between the staffing logs and the overtime reports.

For instance, during a pay period spanning late April and early May of 2012, CCA reported on its overtime report that one guard worked 111 hours — just under the 112 maximum. But the staff report for the same period shows that guard working about 123 hours. Another guard was listed as working 112 hours on the overtime report during the same pay period, compared with the nearly 130 hours that the guard worked according to the staff report.

Also during that pay period, one guard was listed on the staffing report as working two separate 36-hour shifts, and a total of nearly 140 hours in a two-week span. The overtime report, however, showed that the same guard was only paid for 112 hours of work.

A May 2012 report by Department of Correction investigators also cited staffing problems at the prison. The report was part of an investigation into an incident in which members of one inmate gang attacked another group, stabbing and beating them.

“Staffing of the unit needs to be consistent,” the investigators wrote. “In reviewing the schedule it appeared that staff were double-posted.”

The investigators interviewed the CCA employees who were working at the time of the attack, according to the documents. CCA’s unit manager, Norma Rodriguez, told investigators that the prison unit was short one of the mandatory correctional officers, although she added that other CCA employees told her that a CCA counselor had filled that spot, according to the documents.

Monitoring a private prison is a complicated process and the department looks at several operational issues, not just staffing, Reinke said. He also noted that the department’s monitoring process has grown increasingly stringent over the past decade.

“It’s a learning process,” Reinke said.

Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter has long been a supporter of private prisons. The news of the police investigation hasn’t changed that, Otter’s communication director Mark Warbis said.

The governor wouldn’t comment about the matter, however, because the investigation was under way, Warbis said.

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