ACLU Battles Prison Assaults

Private lockup accused of unbridled violence

| March 17, 2010

The American Civil Liberties Union has sued Idaho's largest prison--the privately run Idaho Correctional Center--alleging a culture of violence that is accepted and even encouraged by guards, forcing inmates to live in fear.

"Prison isn't supposed to be a violent place," said lead ACLU attorney Stephen Pevar. "There are many prisons that aren't nearly as violent as this one ... If ICC cannot very quickly improve things, those prisoners have to be taken out of there."

The lawsuit details 23 assaults at ICC since November 2006. The ACLU claims that all of them were preventable, but that guards, through deliberate indifference, failed to protect the inmates.

But ICC, which is run by Corrections Corporation of America, the largest private prison contractor in the country, has been known as Idaho's most violent prison for more than two years. A 2008 Associated Press investigation revealed that the assault rate there was three times higher than at other state prisons. At the time, legislators voiced concern for the levels of violence at ICC, but a follow-up report a year later by AP reporter Rebecca Boone revealed that, despite several investigations, the number of assaults at ICC had decreased only slightly to almost nine per month.

In the last year, ICC reported 231 offender-on-offender assaults, compared to 89 at the next largest prison, the Idaho State Correctional Institution, according to Idaho Department of Corrections spokesman Jeff Ray.

Ray declined comment on the ACLU lawsuit, as did Steve Owen, director of marketing for CCA, who wrote in an e-mail that the prison is safe and monitored by IDOC.

Starting in January 2008, IDOC officials cited concerns that CCA was not fully investigating reports of inmate violence, was not reporting crimes committed in the facility and was not holding perpetrators of violence accountable, the AP reported a year ago. IDOC officials also indicated the number of assaults may be triple what CCA was reporting.

Meanwhile, CCA faces numerous lawsuits at prisons across the country and is at the center of a spate of in-custody deaths at privately-run immigration detention centers. There were nine deaths at one Arizona detention facility, The New York Times reported in January.

CCA general council Gus Puryear told an attorneys' trade magazine in 2005 that at any given time, there are 700 to 1,100 claims pending against the company.

Pevar said he is aware that CCA faces lawsuits in other states, but that he is seeking class-action relief only for the prisoners in Idaho. According to the lawsuit, ICC is widely known as "gladiator school" for the number of violent prisoners who are given latitude to commit assaults.

The term "gladiator school" has been applied to violent prisons for years, including the Deuel Vocational Institution in Tracy, Calif., in the '70s and early '80s. But an inmate at a CCA-run prison in Nashville, Tenn., recently bragged to a judge that he acted as a "gladiator" there, beating up other inmates at the behest of CCA guards, according to

Relatives of inmates have also been concerned about violence at ICC for about two years; it was the impetus for the creation of a new blog in January, Idaho Prison Watch.

"I've been hearing about the 'beat down' of inmates by other inmates for over two years now. We also know how apathetic and/or vicious some of the [correctional officers] have been. We assumed that nothing was being done as far as investigations," said Connie Molen, who runs the blog. "There are more than a few of us that are breathing a sigh of relief. Now we hope the ACLU will continue to carry the ball all the way to the end."


Comments (9)

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Great article! As of today Warden Valdez and Assistant Warden Prado were removed from their positions at the Idaho Correctional Center. I wonder if the CO's who were named in the lawsuit will remain employed at ICC.

Posted by Connie on 03/17/2010 at 7:13 PM

May I add that not all of the correctional officers at the Idaho Correctional Center are apathetic/viscious. There are a few that not only act in a professional manner but also show respect and kindness to the inmates and their families who visit them. These CO's are a good example of how Correctional Officers should conduct themselves. They need to be commended.

Posted by Connie on 03/17/2010 at 7:25 PM

I know Connie's husband just from reading about his case and getting to know Connie, a wonderful woman. Scott Molen is a perfect example of what is wrong with our country's justice system today. The hysteria regarding the sex offender laws has made it much too easy for children with behavior/psychological problems to target a parent, or in Scott's case a stepparent who they don't like or resent. This could be jealousy (lots of kids resent their parents new partner) or if they just don't want anyone exercising any discipline/authority..which is what happened in this case. But, then lawyers with alcohol problems shouldn't take money and then do a terrible job (which is what happened in Scott's case) and then states attorneys and police assuming guilt and running with it, overlooking all kinds of things that should not have been ignored. What a tragic miscarriage of justice. Whatever wrong could go wrong did go wrong in this case.
Connie Molen is valiant, however. If you ever were run over by a corrupt and/or inadequate system, you'd want her on your side. Before I heard about Scott's case, I heard about Connie. She's wonder woman in my book but then I think it's because she knows she's got a good, decent man and he was run over by a terrible system of justice. I hope what happened at the Idaho Correctional Center is just the beginning of more good things to come for people falsely accused and for all those in prison who do not belong there. If you are someone unaware of all this, and didn't care before, I hope you do now. Please watch Witch Hunt with Sean Penn www.witch
CHECK : FAST (False Allegation Support Team
and RSOL (Reform Sex Offender Laws
Thank you for caring.

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Posted by patricia w on 03/17/2010 at 7:33 PM

America it's time to wake up and put a magnifying glass on our justice systems and start to hold it accountable. False allegations leading to wrongful convictions are on the rise. The lowering of evidence standards by allowing cases with no DNA, no forensic evidence, no witnesses and only the unverifiable word of one person against another puts everyone at risk to injustice. Then we allow them to send these innocent people to prison, under the worst charges know to man, and then become subject to the cruel and inhumane treatment by both officers and inmates alike. Think it can't happen to you...think again! It's easier than you can ever imagine. There is so much extreme prejudice surrounding these types of allegations, the presumption of guilt is fatally injected before any facts are ever revealed. Watch your local papers and see who is being accused. I have seen them charge multiple felony counts of sexual abuse as young as the age of 12 years old. And when you read the comments below those articles, it will spin your head to hear them say "put them away and throw away the key" without hearing a single fact. This is where your unbiased jury pool comes from? You haven't a chance in hell for ever seeing a fair trial. They will have you plead guilty, although you maintain innocence, to avoid lengthy prison time and label you as a sex offender for the rest of your life and walk away and tell the public "justice was served"! It's our responsibility to preserve and protect the innocent of America. Do the research and don't be so assuming that your constitutional rights are protecting you and those imparting justice are acting unbiased and without prejudice to simply win and appear politically correct.

Posted by Joe Friday on 03/18/2010 at 7:16 AM

[ Eli's Hammer ] The plain truth is that there are too many laws. I believe, correct if in error, that at any given time there are about 10,000 people either in prison, in jail, or waiting to go to same in this state alone. Of these 95% or so are lower-class MEN. That detainment facilities are warehouses is of no surprise...but stacking them too full can lead to some surprises! Read a bit on the riots of the late 1960's. What I am reading here sound very much like the milieux which culminated in those riots. Overcrowding leads to administrative apathy from court to guard...and from guard to prisoner. Then from prisoner to prisoner. So-called "Dead TIme" (sitting in cells w/o activities or stimulus other than violence) leads to some quite interesting, albeit dangerous and violent behaviors. First prisoners attack prisoners, strong against weak. Then prisoners attack other prisoners equally. Then gang grouping attack others, and form new gangs for protection. (and take that out with them to the cities and town to which they return!) Later, if the crowding continues lockdown times increase...then we see the guards attacked and killed as well. Guards then stay out of the cell areas and more violence occurs. The cycle repeats until the prison blows up into riot. Remember too...that as much as you may want more punishment than just removal and tension filled nights without children or women (ever) and fell that tv's and recreation are not suited to criminals...these men will get out. And the harder they do the time, the harder they will do the hapless civilian that gets in their way for the next couple years. Tension = "Fight" in those prisons. It does not immeadiately abate because of freedom. There is a very long delayed stress component.

Posted by ourioni on 03/18/2010 at 8:41 AM

if your in prison your there for a reason maybe cuz you need to be in a cage for your violent acts dont put the blame on your zoo keeper cuz another momkey jumps on your back you sue-happy inmates that cant make it in the real world if you didnt have my tax dollars how much of my tax momey does the person you raped or murdered get maybe we should go back to the chain gang so you can see what it is like to be realy punished for your crimes

Posted by jrp on 03/19/2010 at 12:32 AM

[ Eli's Hammer ] So jrp, I take you are or were a prison guard? Chain gangs would be nice but in the modern era they just don't work. most prisoners would probably prefer chain gang work to dead time, but the modern public just won't have convicts taking jobs that they think could go to non-prison folks. Prison work gangs could build the 100 or so schools ( or at least do the grunt work ) that we so badly need...but the contractors would have a cow. They could dig ditches but regular stiffs get 12-32 dollars per hour for that...and it wouldn't fly. The "punishment' of being imprisoned isn't the beat-down...that actually makes their time easier. Hatred is a good way to pass the time. The harder the time physically, the easier to hate so the time passes easier. They just fight every guard--every time until one or the other is dead. As for rapists, I'd just as soon NOT have them on chain-gangs where they might have a slim chance to escape and rape someone...maybe even you jrp! Better to let them loose in what they call "general-population" where they can meet the regular prisoners for a tat-a-tat in the recreation yard or chow hall. I am certain that many prisoners would like to make their acquaintance. Their 'rehabilitation' would be nearly certain. The zoo keepers, as you have stated, are much of the problem. They are bored and think of themselves as under appreciated, underpaid and overworked. It's an easy job as jobs go, however. Not a 'pleasant' one--but there is little actual 'work' that is done by guards. Most of their time is spent bellyaching just like the convicts they guard. It really don't matter too much whether 'time' is hard or soft except AFTER a convict is released. How they view society then has much to do with how they treat their victims. TV's, recreation, good chow, showers often, crafts and whatnot are for the guards. Occupied cons don't attack as much and are quieter generally. Also makes them somewhat more cooperative. There are no quick fixes to crime and detention...and that is frustrating.

Posted by ourioni on 03/22/2010 at 4:01 PM

I used to be an officer at that prison. When I was there we had some violence, but nothing like what is described here. However, I am not surprised as so many of you seem to be. The inmates are not there for stealing lollipops or taking someone's milk money. They are violent people sentenced to live among violent people which only serves to fuel the vicious cycle.
As for the officers and counselors just standing around watching, some things are out of their hands. Company policy will not let them enter the area until a properly equipped response team arrives. If those four officers were to enter they would suddenly be the victims.
Those prisoners are there for a reason, they are there because their behavior is not something that we, as law abiding citizens, want on the streets.
You can sit here and play monday morning quarterback all you want, but those officers did what they had to do to keep themselves safe and prevent the situation from escalating any further.
I am not saying that there was nothing that they could do, I am not saying that the prison should not be getting sued. I am just saying that the individual officers did what they could with their hands tied.

Posted by Joshua Blessinger on 05/13/2010 at 12:58 PM

Re: Scott Molen case. He won his appeal this year. This is a travesty of justice. Watch your children. I have never met the family in the case he was convicted for in Idaho, but I have met Connie. I do KNOW Scott had other victims who "alleged" to have been molested by him many, many years before Scott met Connie. Truth is truth regardless of how much evidence was put forward. The only failure in Scott Molen's case was in allowing Scott Molen's case to be appealed. The failure was on the prosecution, not the justice system itself. If that was the prosecution's fault, so be it, but justice worked properly when they convicted Molen because justice is about truth, and the truth was told! Scott Molen did commit that crime! There was no way for this Idaho victim to have known that Scott had been accused by at least two other victims many years previous. So is it just a coincidence? I think not! Connie's own family was estranged from her before she died. Connie created a serious rift in that family, supporting this abuser instead of standing by her four daughters. Are Idahoans truly happy that their justice system let an "alleged" pedophile go free in favor of protecting a child? Sickening.

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