Crowley inmates settle riot lawsuit for $600,000
On the eve of a 25-week trial that promised to focus on claims of poor training and worse management, the nation's largest private prison company has reached a settlement with nearly 200 former inmates over a 2004 riot at the Crowley County Correctional Facility in southeastern Colorado. The uprising, which plaintiffs' attorney Bill Trine says was telegraphed in advance and could have been prevented, left many noncombatants terrorized first by the rioters and then by corrections staff retaking the prison.
Trine announced this morning the $600,000 settlement his 193 clients have reached with Corrections Corporation of America, which operates more than sixty private lockups in sixteen states, including four in Colorado. Depending on their injuries, individual plaintiffs could receive anywhere from $1,200 to $17,000. That's "pennies on the dollar" for a billion-dollar company like CCA, plaintiff Vance Adams noted. Yet the settlement is an unusual one in that CCA was unable to keep it secret; while the company has been sued frequently, it rarely settles a case without insisting on a confidentiality agreement as a condition for payment.
After eight years of litigation involving hundreds of depositions and motions and hundreds of thousands of pages of documents, Trine wasted no time calling a press conference to detail the settlement and denounce what he calls "the evils inherent in the private prison system" -- many of which were on display in abundance before, during and immediately after the Crowley riot.
As extensively reported in our previous coverage, Crowley was an incendiary device in search of a match in the summer of 2004 -- a poorly supervised operation with skimpy meals, well-documented security flaws and rising tension among Colorado prisoners and new arrivals shipped in from Washington state. During the discovery process, Trine learned that many officers and inmates had expressed concerns about the deteriorating situation, including a frantic staff meeting held on July 20, just hours before the place went off, during which several COs questioned the wisdom or letting all the prisoners on the yard at once when so many were threatening a disturbance that very night.
Despite the numerous warnings, only a skeleton crew was on hand that evening as a disgruntled core of Washington inmates began helping themselves to weight equipment, smashing things and going after reputed snitches. Staff quickly abandoned the place, leaving some of their colleagues behind. "They didn't have enough trained staff to deal with a disturbance, let alone a riot," Trine says.
Continue for more about the Crowley inmates' settlement.