Colorado Prison Contractor Faces Allegations of Hiding Inmate Violence

A private prison contractor that has been accused of extorting money from the state of Colorado has come under fire again over allegations that the company was dishonest when reporting violent offenses to state and federal governments.According to a report in Time, Bush judicial nominee Gus Puryear, who recently worked for private prison firm Corrections Corporation of America, managed a reporting system for the company where violent disturbances were often minimized and masked when reported to government agencies.

A CCA whistleblower named Ronald T. Jones explained the process to Time:

Jones knows CCA intimately. Until last summer, the longtime Republican was in charge of “quality assurance” records for CCA prisons across the U.S. He says that in 2005, after CCA found itself embarrassed on several occasions by the public release of internal records to government agencies, Puryear mandated that detailed, raw reports on prison shortcomings carry a blanket assertion of “attorney-client privilege,” thus forbidding their release without his written consent. From then on, Jones says, the audits delivered to agencies were filled with increasingly vague performance measures. “If the wrong party found out that a facility’s operations scored low in an audit, then CCA could be subject to litigation, fines or worse,” explains Jones. “When Mr. Puryear felt there was highly sensitive or potentially damaging information to CCA, I would then be directed to remove that information from an audit report.” Puryear would not comment on the allegations. Jones resigned from CCA last summer to pursue a legal career.

According to Jones, Puryear was most concerned about what CCA described as “zero tolerance” events, or ZT’s – including unnatural deaths, major disturbances, escapes and sexual assaults. According to Jones, bonuses and job security at the company were tied to reporting low ZT numbers. Low numbers also pleased CCA’s government clients, as well as the company’s board, which received a regular tally, and Wall Street analysts concerned about potentially costly lawsuits that CCA might face.

In 2006, for example, Jones says CCA had to lock down a prison in Texas to control rioting by as many as 60 inmates. Despite clear internal guidelines defining the incident as a ZT, Jones says he was ordered not to label it that way. Instead it was logged as, “Altered facility schedule due to inmate action”. And this was not unusual, says Jones: “Information was misrepresented in a very disturbing way concerning the company’s most important performance indicators, which included escapes, suicides, violent outbreaks and sexual assaults.”

In January, it was reported that CCA was threatening to stop housing Colorado inmates unless the state agreed to increase the daily rate paid to hold prisoners. One lawmaker referred to the action as “extortion.”

CCA runs four correctional facilities in Colorado, incarcerating roughly 20 percent of the state’s inmates, according to data from the Department of Corrections.

Erin Rosa was born in Spain and raised in Colorado Springs. She is a freelance writer currently living in Denver. Rosa's work has been featured in a variety of news outlets including the Huffington Post, Democracy Now!, and the Rocky Mountain Chronicle, an alternative-weekly in Northern Colorado where she worked as a columnist covering the state legislature. Rosa has received awards from the Society of Professional Journalists for her reporting on lobbying and woman's health issues. She was also tapped with a rare honorable mention award by the Newspaper Guild-CWA's David S. Barr Award in 2008--only the second such honor conferred in its nine-year history--for her investigative series covering the federal government's Supermax prison in the state. Rosa covers the labor community, corrections, immigration and government transparency matters. She can be reached at