- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 25, 2017

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - A private prison company once hid its practice of triple-bunking in two-person cells at a federal detention center in Kansas before a national group’s inspection and was slow to address understaffing, according to a federal audit released Tuesday.

The report from the Justice Department’s inspector general also said the U.S. Marshals Service failed to adequately oversee its Leavenworth Detention Center. The audit suggested oversight problems could exist beyond the northeastern Kansas prison.

The 1,033 bed center operated by CoreCivic Inc., based in Nashville, mainly houses defendants awaiting trial in federal criminal cases. Both the U.S. Marshals Service and the company said that they have addressed issues raised by the report.

“We identified several significant concerns,” Deputy Inspector General Rob Storch said in a video statement. “We found that understaffing at Leavenworth potentially placed the security of staff and detainees at risk.”

A federal audit last year said private facilities have more safety and security problems than government-run lockups, prompting former President Barack Obama’s administration to announce it would phase out the use of some facilities. But President Donald Trump endorses private prisons.

The Kansas Department of Corrections is pursuing a plan to have a private company build a new prison to replace its largest and oldest lockup in nearby Lansing and perhaps lease it back to the state. The department could finalize a contract this fall and is limiting bidders to companies that have built at least three large prisons.

The latest Justice Department audit focused on the Leavenworth Detention Center’s operations from October 2010 through May 2015. CoreCivic, previously Corrections Corporation of America, operates the center under a 2007 contract worth $697 million through 2026.

The company said in a response to the audit that it received a preliminary score of 100 percent in a March review by the American Correctional Association, which accredits prisons. Spokesman Jonathan Burns said in an email that CoreCivic has increased training for quality-assurance managers, improved quality-assurance policies and strengthened employee recruitment.

“CoreCivic is proud of its longstanding partnership with the U.S. Marshals Service at Leavenworth Detention Center,” he said. “And our dedicated, professional staff works hard every day to provide a safe, secure facility and high quality programming.”

Staffing vacancies at the Leavenworth center spiked in February 2015 and prompted both mandatory overtime and the closing of some security posts, according to the audit. It said the Marshals Service did not adequately monitor staffing and the Leavenworth center didn’t ask for temporary staff from other prisons.

Also, the audit said, the Leavenworth center triple-bunked some inmates from at least 2005 through late 2015. It said in 2011, the center removed beds from such cells ahead of an ACA inspection so that the group’s auditors were unaware of the triple-bunking. A separate review by the company concluded the bunks were removed “intentionally to conceal” the practice.

But, the federal audit said, the ACA declined to act “in part because the individuals involved were no longer” in Leavenworth.

The auditors said the Marshals Service has only one monitoring staff for each of its 15 privately operated detention facilities, in a district office rather than at the prison, and that the federal Bureau of Prisons has three monitors onsite at each of its 13 privately run lockups.

But Marshals Service spokeswoman Lynzey Donahue said in an email that it has worked “aggressively” with the inspector general’s office for more than a year and, “we have implemented, or are in the process of implementing, all of the recommendations that pertain to us.”


Follow John Hanna on Twitter at https://twitter.com/apjdhanna .

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