Lawsuit: Violent Private Prison Called 'Gladiator School'

BOISE, Idaho (CN) - Corrections Corporation of America uses violence as a management tool at a private prison so brutal it's known as Idaho's "Gladiator School," an inmate claims in court.
     Rowe Burningham claims he was brutally beaten at the Idaho Correctional Center, in Kuna. He sued CCA, state prison director Brent Reinke, ICC warden Timothy Wengler and other CCA officers, in Federal Court.
     Burningham, a sex offender, claims he was housed in a segregation unit but was moved to a nonsegregation unit against his requests. The move made him susceptible to attack by prison gang members who tend to react violently to sex offenders, he says in the complaint.
     He claims fellow inmate and wannabe gang member Michael Shaw Balloue attacked him on Oct. 11, 2011, as part of an initiation into one of the prison's gangs. Balloue is not a party to the lawsuit.
     "The only prison staff present at that time was Officer J. Hudon," the complaint states. "Before Officer Hudon responded, Michael Balloue had broken Mr. Burningham's jaw, torn his ear from his head in a three-inch gash, caused severe hemorrhaging in his eye, and left multiple welts all over his head from the impact of his fists, and the resulting impact of Mr. Burningham's head on the floor."
     Then Hudon joined in, Burningham says, spraying him in the face with pepper spray.
     Burningham was taken to St. Luke's Medical Center in Boise, where he was treated for numerous head injuries that have left him in "an altered mental state," according to the lawsuit.
     He was discharged from the hospital and sent to the prison's medical unit, where he was put on a "full liquid-through-a-straw" diet with his jaw wired shut.
     Burningham was sent to maximum security, but CCA staff returned him to ICC general population after he tried to submit grievances against several facility staff members, he says. He was taken out only after his attorneys at Sallaz & Gatewood made multiple phone calls to ICC administration.
     "ICC is an exceptionally violent prison," the complaint states. "Called 'Gladiator School,' more violence occurs at ICC tha[n] at Idaho's eight other prisons combined. ICC is entrenched in a culture where ICC staff uses prisoner violence as a management tool.
     "Violence is rampant at ICC for a host of reasons, including the fact that the defendants turn a blind eye to it, fail to adequately investigate assaults and therefore are unable to fashion effective remedial measures to prevent assaults from recurring; they refuse to discipline the guards whose malfeasance precipitated prisoner violence; they frequently place vulnerable inmates with predators; they fail to protect inmates who request and need protection from assault; and ICC is understaffed, inadequately supervised and guards are inadequately trained."
     The CCA staff "relies on the degradation, humiliation and subjugation of prisoners, thereby creating excessive and unnecessary tension, stress and frustration within the prisoner population," exacerbated by the "deliberate reliance on - and encouragement of - prisoner violence as a management tool," the complaint states.
     Burningham claims assaults among the 2,000-inmate population are at least three times higher than official numbers; prisoners are afraid to report incidents for fear of retaliation, and CCA deliberately fails to document the cases that are reported.
     In 2009, an Idaho Department of Corrections official told The Associated Press: "It is fair to estimate that for every one incident we known of, there may be two that we do not," according to the complaint.
     Burningham seeks punitive damages for cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. He wants more than $150,000 and an injunction forcing CCA to take steps to ensure he is protected from assaults.
     He is represented by Lauren McConnell with Sallaz & Gatewood. 

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