Idaho: 30-Year-Old Federal Lawsuit over Prison Conditions May Be Nearing an End
In the early 1980s, a federal judge found that “virtually every inmate” assigned to a particular unit of the Idaho state prison had been “brutally raped.” And that was on top of overcrowding, limited access to psychiatric and medical care, inadequate food, lack of warm clothing, and other unconstitutional conditions at the prison. A number of inmate lawsuits were consolidated into one, the so-called “Balla case,” which remains ongoing to this day. (The inmates were initially represented by one of their own, subsequently represented by the ACLU, and are currently represented by the Western regional law firm Stoel Rives.) Now, as the AP reports, U.S. district court judge Lynn Winmill will soon decide whether to discontinue the component of the lawsuit addressing violence and health care. Although overcrowding remains a problem, Judge Winmill suggests that it may be better addressed by new lawsuits.
The invaluable Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse, a website of the University of Michigan law school, provides a summary of the litigation complete with copies of the filings. The clearinghouse notes that at least one result of the ongoing litigation has been to fuel privatization of Idaho’s prison complex:
In response to the decision, Idaho prison officials transferred more than 300 prisoners to a Corrections Corporation of America prison in Appleton, Minnesota, at a cost of $1.1 million. According to news reports, prison officials plan to ask the state legislature for $160 million to construct three new prisons, and for an additional $7.9 million to cover the cost of housing overflow prisoners both out-of-state and in county jail cells.