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Federal Judge Slaps State of Idaho With Sanctions in Blistering Ruling Over Prison Cover-Up


  • Adam Rosenlund

The Idaho Department of Correction has been slapped with sanctions in the wake of a trial in which witnesses confirmed that IDOC officials participated in a systemic cover-up of inadequate mental health services and records tampering.

In a blistering order, a federal court judge wrote that “attempts to mislead the Court strike at the heart of the judicial process and cannot be ignored.” 

U.S. District Court Judge David Carter handed down the ruling Aug. 11, writing that officials at the Idaho State Correctional Institution, the Gem State’s largest prison, had a “pattern of allowing employees to manipulate inmate medical files before, during and after the special master's visit for inappropriate purposes," and the practice "crosses the line.”

The ruling stemmed from allegations that IDOC officials altered and/or destroyed prisoner medical records, moved inmates out of the prison’s mental health unit and into the general population in a game of “musical jail cells” and, most dramatically, inappropriately used so-called "dry cells" called “barbaric” by a court-appointed investigator.

The charges were the centerpiece of two days of testimony before Judge Carter July 22 and 23 at the U.S. Courthouse in Boise.

In Tuesday's ruling, Carter described the manipulative efforts by IDOC officials as an attempt to “paper over and mislead the special master about the inadequacies of its mental health care system.”

Ultimately, Carter ruled that “the Court finds it appropriate to issue sanctions.”

Carter has now ordered a new compliance monitoring period at the prison. IDOC officials initially thought they were more than halfway through a previously ordered two-year monitoring period, which began in June 2014. Carter has reset the clock; in essence beginning a new period of oversight beginning Sept. 1. Additionally, Carter ordered an audit from the National Commission on Correctional Health Care to be completed with satisfactory results before the state can request any legal claims be dismissed.

“Defendant [IDOC] shall have the burden to prove that there are no ongoing constitutional violations,” Carter wrote.

The ruling was a win for plaintiffs, representing the class action suit brought by inmates against the state in the now decades-long Balla vs. Idaho case. The only request from plaintiffs that Carter did not grant was for another medical examiner to investigate the prison. While Carter did not grant that request, the special master investigation will continue.

“This is a huge win,” a representative of Boise-based law firm Stoel Rives, representing the plaintiffs, said late Tuesday.