Blog of Rights

Prison as Punishment, Not for Punishment

By Rachel Bloom, ACLU at 3:43pm

No one wants to go to prison, but there's one particular prison in Idaho that's especially feared. Why? According to the Associated Press, over the past two years, more prisoner-on-prisoner assaults have occurred at this specific prison — the Idaho Correctional Center (ICC) — than at the other eight Idaho prisons combined.

During the past two months, ACLU lawyers interviewed over 30 prisoners who were viciously assaulted at ICC. The findings were so damning that a lawsuit was filed in federal court in Boise on March 11. The complaint, which exceeds 80 pages, chronicles more than 20 violent assaults that resulted in broken bones and bloodshed. The complaint does not include a number of victims who are so afraid of being assaulted again that they declined to have their stories included in the lawsuit. Since the lawsuit was filed, the ACLU has been contacted by more than 40 other persons who were assaulted while confined at ICC.

In what is a poorly kept secret, ICC is known throughout Idaho as "Gladiator School." ICC staff not only condones violence amongst prisoners, it encourages and facilitates it as a management tool. In the United States, individuals are sent to prison as punishment, not for punishment, but that is not the case at ICC. It is worth noting that of the nine prisons in Idaho, ICC is the only one not run by the state, but rather by the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). CCA, which boasts of being the largest owner and operator of private correctional and detention facilities in the U.S., has faced hundreds of lawsuits in recent years, including several brought by the ACLU.

Although our class action lawsuit was filed just last week, it appears that officials at CCA know that changes are needed. Mere days after our complaint was filed, CCA replaced the warden and assistant warden, the top two officials at ICC.

The lawsuit seeks broad injunctive relief on behalf of all ICC prisoners. The injunctive relief would require ICC to make numerous improvements designed to ensure that prisoners are reasonably protected against assault.

Stephen Pevar, the lead attorney in the case, said: "I consider this case to be one of the most important cases I've litigated in my 39 years of practice, if not the most important. No other case of mine remotely approaches the level of profound human suffering that has occurred at ICC — nearly all of which could have easily been prevented by staff."

— By Rachel Bloom and Stephen Pevar, Racial Justice Program

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