Friday, December 10, 2010

What price prison savings?

In the face of the brutality shown on a videotape of a prison inmate's being savagely beaten by another inmate, Idaho state officialdom has shown inexplicable calm, even silence, rather than exploding in righteous outrage with demands of an end to such cruelty in a state institution.

The Associated Press released the surveillance video late last month in its ongoing coverage of questions surrounding the treatment of prisoners at the privately run Idaho Correctional Center in Kuna.

Could it be that officials felt they could distance themselves from the chilling, internationally broadcast videotape because the ferocious beating took place in a prison operated by the Corrections Corporation of America? The firm had hired, trained and managed guards who callously watched like disinterested spectators while the inmate was beaten senseless.

The inmate, who had been convicted of robbery, today lives with serious brain damage and memory loss. He was released from prison on "medical parole" because he was too injured to remain.

Yet for its part, the Corrections Corporation of America expressed more concern about the videotape's broadcast than what had transpired.

Not everyone has been as tranquil about the episode. The FBI is investigating, and the Corrections Corporation of America is under scrutiny.

Idaho is one of 19 states that have hired the firm to run a prison. Like other states, Idaho was lured by promises of reducing prison costs. Outsourcing one of the state's most important pubic safety functions, however, does not relieve Idaho of prison responsibilities.

The beating at the prison reflects badly on the state's oversight of the security and safety of inmates committed by courts to state supervision, and may open it to legal liabilities.

Even before the beating, the state had been aware of complaints regarding potentially insufficient medical care for inmates and of a relatively high rate of violence at the prison.

Gov. Butch Otter and Idaho Department of Correction officials must take whatever measures are necessary with its private prison contractor to convince the public they are concerned and that reducing prison costs doesn't blind them to brutality behind bars under the approving eyes of guards.

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