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CCA agrees to settle lawsuit for $1.6 million

(Published March 8, 1999)

Lawyers representing about 1,900 D.C. inmates housed in a private prison near Youngstown, Ohio, in a class action lawsuit against Corrections Corporation of America reached a preliminary settlement with the prison operator March 1.

The inmates charged that CCA provided them inadequate medical care and failed to protect them from other violent inmates. The suit also charged that inmates were victims of excessive force from guards. The City of Youngstown, which originally offered CCA tax and other incentives to build the prison, joined the plaintiffs in the suit.

CCA officials have denied any wrongdoing.

CCA will pay $1.6 million to be distributed among the inmates, some of whom have been transferred to other prisons, according to documents filed with U.S. District Court Judge Dan A. Polster. That sum will also cover the inmates’ legal fees.

If approved, the class-action settlement would be the first ever involving a private prison operator, said Alphonse Gerhardtstein, lead counsel for the inmates. Gerhardstein and other lawyers also successfully lobbied the Ohio legislature to pass tougher restrictions on private prisons.

The settlement calls for a full-time on-site monitor employed by the City of Youngstown to work at the prison on behalf of the city and the inmates. A medical monitor will also review compliance with medical standards.

Individual inmates covered in the settlement are eligible to receive $300 to $1,000 each, depending on their security classification and where they were housed, in compensation for physical injuries received and personal property confiscated or lost.

Polster will hold a hearing April 20 in Akron, Ohio, to consider final approval of the settlement.

Meanwhile, federal legislation to prevent the privatization of federal prisons was introduced March 5 by U.S. Reps. Ted Strickland, D-Ohio; John Sweeny, R-NY; and Peter King, R-NY.

The bill, known as the Public Safety Act, also would prevent states that receive federal money for prisons from privatizing state facilities. Strickland represents an area of Ohio south of Youngstown.

Copyright 1999, The Common Denominator