Settlement reached in 2004 Crowley County prison riot
230 current, former inmates to share $600,000
A Tennessee-based private prisons operator has agreed to an out-of-court settlement with inmates incarcerated during a July 2004 riot at the Crowley County Correctional Facility.
The settlement was announced Wednesday morning at the Colorado Trial Lawyers Association in downtown Denver.
Bill Trine, the plaintiffs' lead counsel, spoke to the media, along with former inmates Vince Adams, William Morris and Ross Nuanes.
Trine said the Corrections Corporation of America will pay $600,000 to 230 inmates who suffered emotionally or physically during the riot. CCA operated the prison during the riot and continues to do so. Without the settlement, he said, a trial would have lasted 25 weeks and possibly resulted in more damages awarded to the inmates.
Trine blamed CCA for having inadequate staffing and training to handle the disturbance, and for failing to act on warnings and recommendations for improving security at the prison. Trine said CCA also ignored rising tensions between Colorado inmates and a group of 300 inmates from Washington. Inmates from Washington were involved in another disturbance at the prison in 1999, said Trine.
"They had a plan," said Jeff, an ex-convict who did not want to be fully identified. "There were guys that were specifically breaking toilets and sinks-- the Washington guys had a pretty good plan going into it."
Jeff said the group was upset because they wanted to be transferred back to their home state for a number of reasons. The Washington inmates could smoke in their cells, wear their own clothes and have conjugal visits in their home state but not in Colorado. Jeff said if inmates knew about the plans for a full scale riot, prison leaders should have known as well.
Former inmates who weren't part of the riot said prison guards fled the disturbance area for safety, and it took several hours for a response team to arrive. Due to an apparent lack of communication, inmates not involved in the riot were treated as harshly as the rioting inmates as order was gradually restored.
Jeff said among the systems of punishment were a limited menu in which nothing but bolognese sandwiches were served for the next six months. Jeff said inmates were also forced to shower at gunpoint in front of women guards who videotaped them. Finally, Jeff said because of the extensive damage to some cells during the riot guards forced as many as four inmates into cells built for two.
There were also delays in medical attention following the riot. Jeff said they were handcuffed for two days in a row once order was restored causing several complaints of numbness that stretched for several months. Jeff said there was psychological abuse as well.
"When I went to the doctor, 11 days after the riot started, they had two guys on me and they continuously told me, 'if I make any wrong move they would shoot me on site because prisoners were still under martial law,'" said Jeff.
The Corrections Corporation of America contend their employees acted appropriately. A spokesman for the company said it's cheaper to settle the lawsuit than fight more than 200 claims.
Trine and the inmates said they hope the settlement will convince Colorado and other states to entirely run their own prisons and stop privatizing some prison operations.
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