Idaho’s prison system may be in for another blast of trouble as an investigation into inmates’ medical records sparked by a whistleblower lawsuit grows larger.
The lawsuit was filed by former mental health care provider at the Idaho State Correctional Institution, Diana Canfield. It followed a class-action lawsuit against the prison alleging substandard health care and other issues including missing medical records.
It now appears some inmate records may have been deliberately altered or destroyed, and those allegations are in front of U.S. District Judge Lynn Winmill. Without being specific, Idaho House Speaker Scott Bedke told the Journal on Saturday that the U.S. Department of Justice could become involved.
The Associate Press reports that Canfield, who was a Department of Corrections employee, contends she felt forced to resign after she was harassed by her supervisor for pointing out that the state wasn’t following its own handbook for inmate mental health care.
Canfield’s supervisor was deputy warden, Shell Wamble-Fisher.
An investigator hired by Canfield’s lawyer had some damning statements in her report that was completed last week.
“She (Wamble-Fisher) had access to all computer records and all hard copy files. Ms. Canfield’s notes, documents and information had been altered, removed, or tampered with on multiple occasions based on information I have received from several individuals.”
And the AP said prison staffers have filed sworn statements that Wamble-Fisher hid troublesome inmates from a special investigator that Judge Winmill sent to investigate issues at the state prison, and lied about locking up inmates in holding cells without beds or sinks for more than a day.
This latest episode involving the state’s prison system comes after Idaho’s contract with Corrections Corporation of America, or CCA, blew up last year over short-staffing and other contract violations at the Idaho Corrections Center, which earned the nickname “Gladiator School” during the decade it was run by the private contractor.
A $1 million settlement between the state and CCA was reached. And Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter’s staff said no further action against the company was necessary as determined by a state “investigation.” It turns out there never was a state investigation.
Otter’s Democratic challenger in last year’s gubernatorial election, A.J. Balukoff, tried to make political hay out of the fact the governor’s staff lied about the investigation and that Otter had received $20,000 in campaign contributions from CCA since 2003.
As if these adult prison problems weren’t daunting enough, last fall a tort claim was filed against the state by at least 10 former detainees at the Idaho Department of Juvenile Correction detention center in Nampa, saying they were sexually abused by at least half a dozen suspected abusers working at the center.
The alleged teen victims claim they were sexually abused multiple times by staffers, were at times supplied with illicit drugs by a nurse and that the center’s director and other staffers knew about it but failed to act.
That lawsuit is still in the wind.
Idaho has the highest incarceration rate per 1,000 people of any of the Western states, despite having the lowest incidence of violent crime.
According to the Idaho Department of Correction, this state currently has 8,000 adults behind bars. The state website has no specific number for juveniles.
Perhaps there are people who feel that anyone who ends up behind bars doesn’t warrant much concern. They are wrong.
We have an obligation to care for the safety and health of those we incarcerate, and we certainly have to protect young people from sexual assault.
To do anything less is criminal.