Child-Stealers and Prison Profiteers: A Case Study

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“The Court, in its infinite wisdom, has committed your child, based on risk and needs.” 

From  the introductory video “Your Child Has Been Committed to The Juvenile Corrections System”

For reasons beyond his control, it had taken Donny* three attempts to complete his senior year in high school. On his twentieth birthday, Donny was three days from finishing the classwork necessary to graduate from the Rebound School of Opportunity in Meridian, Idaho. All he had left was to make an oral presentation of his senior report. He had already been offered a post-graduation job at Valley Truss, a local construction service and supply store.

At home, Donny’s father and mother, David and Norma, had prepared a party in honor of their oldest son’s birthday and his anticipated graduation.  When they got home from school, Donny’s siblings, Larry and Sally*, were eager to celebrate with their older brother. But Donny didn’t come home from school that day. Just before classes ended, he was dragged away in handcuffs by his probation officer, Robert Youngkin and taken to the Ada County Jail, where he will remain until April 28.

Over the past six years, Donny has been incarcerated in a variety of institutions, from “treatment centers” in both Idaho and Utah to the Idaho Department Juvenile Corrections Center in Nampa. The juvenile facility in Nampa has become notorious for corruption and sexual exploitation of inmates by guards and other staff members.

In 2008, Donny pleaded guilty to charges of indecent exposure and battery as a result of an incident with his younger brother and sister that did not involve physical contact.

“Norma and I went to Papa Murphy’s to pick up some pizzas for dinner,” David recounted to Pro Libertate. “We were gone just a few minutes – not even a half hour – and we left Donny here in charge of the younger kids. He was 14 at the time, and he seemed able to handle things. Besides, it was just down the block.”

At the time, Sally was six years of age, and Larry was ten. When Dave and Norma returned, Sarah told them that Donny had “asked us to take our clothes off.”

“We were upset and worried, of course, and we tried to find out immediately what had happened,” Dave related. “As far as we could tell, it wasn’t as if he had abused the kids, or even touched them. It was a `You show me yours, and I’ll show you mine’ kind of thing, which is bad, and wrong, but it was not anywhere near as bad as we were afraid it might be.”

Still, out of an abundance of caution, and acting as conscientious parents, Dave and Norma decided to have their daughter examined.

“We took Sarah to the hospital right away, and she was fine,” Dave reports. However, the hospital visit resulted in a mandatory report to social workers and police, and Donny was in custody before his parents returned.

An examination of Donny conducted on behalf of the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare concluded that the teenager displayed “Mild Mental Retardation to Borderline Intellectual Functioning.” He was on a variety of prescription medications and severely depressed by the prospect of being separated from his family. His parents, who were hardly people of means, were predictably desperate to find an alternative to juvenile prison. They didn’t understand that the juvenile “justice” system is designed to prolong needless and unproductive suffering.

“The original evaluation called for outpatient therapy through SANE Solutions,” David points out. “However, at the hearing [counselor] Larry Overholzer discouraged us from seeking outpatient treatment, insisting that what he called an`in-patient’ approach would be better.”

Dave and Norma took that advice, without being told explicitly what it would entail. They soon regretted their decision.

“We asked the judge for Donny to receive in-patient treatment. He agreed – and the bailiffs took him into custody immediately. That happened six years ago. He has been a prisoner ever since.”

Donny’s six-year ordeal has included two month-long stints in the Juvenile Corrections Center (JCC) in Nampa. During those visits, Dave recalls, “We saw staff members who were covered in prison tattoos, and a few who were wearing [GPS] ankle bracelets” because of criminal convictions.

Seeing their son confined in a facility where he was surrounded by violent offenders – both among fellow inmates and the staff – led his parents to wonder “if we should sue the County for child endangerment,” David observes. They wouldn’t be the first to file a lawsuit of that kind against the JCC.

In June 2012, seven Idaho Department of Juvenile Corrections employees filed a whistleblower lawsuit alleging that their supervisors had permitted female staffers to engage in sexual misconduct with male detainees. According to the lawsuit, the facility’s “cronyist, incompetent, corrupt, and unresponsive administration” had abetted widespread “fraud and waste of public resources”; bestowed promotions on unqualified personnel, who were insulated from accountability; and retaliated against employees who expressed concerns to supervisors.

One former employee described how some staffers would sexually exploit prisoners and were “grooming” others to replace them as resident predators.

“One staff member was [sexually] involved with a juvenile,” Shane Penrod told the Boise Weekly. “That juvenile became a staff member and now they are involved with another juvenile.”

The allegations didn’t reflect the isolated views of a few embittered dissidents: A total of 47 current and former employees eventually lodged complaints against the agency. The lawsuit claimed that the Nampa Police Department was made aware of the widespread problems – including sexual misconduct – at the jail, but did nothing about it.

The IDJC filed an official response denying all of the allegations. SharonHarrigfeld, director of the Idaho Department of Juvenile Corrections, issued a statement reassuring the public “that our facilities are safe” and thanking “all staff for the public service provided each day to community safety.”

That statement was issued on July 31, 2012. At that time, the facility’s staff, whose indivisible probity had earned Harrigfeld’s unqualified endorsement, included 31-year-old employee Julie McCormick, who was arrested several months later and charged with sexual assault on a 15-year-old boy.

IDJC staffer Rhonda Ledford, one of the original plaintiffs in the whistleblower suit, testifies that employees had seen evidence of McCormick’s criminal conduct and expressed concerns to supervisors the previous April, but were “required to sign confidentiality statements about the situation.”

On February 5 of this year, notice of an impending lawsuit was filed against the Department Juvenile Corrections on behalf of a former inmate who claims he was “threatened with bodily harm” by the staff if he were to “talk about crimes committed in the facility.” The plaintiff was committed to the JCC in June 2008 and released in February 2010 –a time frame that includes the two months Donny  served there. He claims that the Idaho Department of Juvenile Corrections has allowed “sexual predators to have continued access to inmates” at the JCC.

According to the plaintiff, he was the victim of repeated sexual assaults, including one that took place “while [he] was shackled and recovering from being anesthetized from surgical dental procedures in October 2008.” One staffer “locked him in a room … and had sexual intercourse” with the boy, who had been sexually abused before arriving at the JCC. The predator would seek to “pay” the victim for sexual favors – and then threaten “to turn him in for having cash in the facility.” The guard also “threatened she would tell Plaintiff’s friends and family of his sex acts if he spoke to anyone” about what had been done to him.

Some of the female staffers “watched Plaintiff and other male inmates shower for their own prurient interests,” according to the tort claim. Others “arranged for physical fights involving juvenile and young adult inmates at the facility, off camera, in a large closet room.” After he filed a complaint about his mistreatment, the staff “retaliated against him with extended incarceration and false accusations of behavior.”

The victim’s criminal record, and the possibility of being sent incarcerated again after his parole, left him vulnerable to blackmail following his release: His chief tormentor “continued to threaten and intimidate [him] through 2013.”

Rather than carrying out a thorough lustration of the facility in Nampa, the IDOJC filed a motion to seal the documents connected to the whistleblower lawsuit. This was to be expected, given that covering up sexual misconduct by “corrections” personnel is standard operating procedure.

In 2007, Timothy Ray Gilligan, who was employed as a prison guard at the Idaho Maximum Security Institution in 2007, admitted that he had repeatedly had sexual relations with a female inmate. In September 2009, Gilligan was arraigned on a charge of felonious sexual misconduct. Thanks to an all but inexplicable act of leniency by the Ada County prosecutor, and the uncharacteristic generosity of the Idaho Sex Offender Classification Board, Gilligan did not have to register as a sex offender. He wasn’t even prosecuted on the sex charge. As a result, he served only a few months of a three-year sentence.

The Ada County Prosecutor’s office, in collaboration with 4thDistrict Judge Ronald Wilper, arranged an agreement in which Gilligan was permitted to plead guilty to a charge of burglary — despite the fact that the only thing the offender may have taken by force was a captive woman’s self-respect. The Sex Offender Classification Board helped out by relieving Gilligan of the prospect of being a registered sex offender, or even a violent sexual predator (VSP). This decision was supposedly made on account of the results of a “psycho-sexual evaluation” carried out by SANE Solutions, a quasi-private psychological counseling service that provides such evaluations and supervises treatment of convicted sex offenders.

A quick reminder: If Donny and his parents had agreed to an “out-patient” treatment program, it would have been conducted through SANE Solutions. Gilligan, who worked as a “psychiatric technician” in the prison system subsequent to his admitted offenses, may have known how to game that system. Then again, it’s obvious that Gilligan’s erstwhile colleagues in the criminal “justice” system extended every conceivable professional courtesy in the effort to avoid ruining his life by forcing him to register as a sex offender.

As Donny  and his parents can testify, in sexual misconduct cases not involving employees of the state criminal “justice” system, the Ada County prosecutor’s office is not inclined toward such generosity.

The stated reason for Donny’s final arrest was an alleged probation violation. Specifically, he had not subjected himself to a required polygraph examination. Donny’s parents insist that they had received approval for an alternative treatment program as a substitute for a polygraph examination.

The polygraph ranks just below the witching rod as a reliable scientific instrument. It was invented by the same man who created the comic book character “Wonder Woman,” an Amazonian princess who wielded a magic lasso that could compel truthful disclosures from those whom it encompassed. Polygraph findings are generally not admissible as evidence in court, but the device is routinely used during interrogations as a way to intimidate suspects into confessing. It is also widely used to “re-offend” people on probation.

Several years ago, Donny “failed” a polygraph question about being alone with his siblings in violation of the terms of his probation. His father David insists that this was not only untrue, but impossible.

“We were appalled by that result,” he declares. “Donny was never left alone. He was under 24/7 supervision.”

Donny requested a second polygraph examination, which meant another $150 fee had to be paid by the family.  An appointment was made with an approved polygraph technician, and Donny, along with his father and his attorney, went to the appointed location – only to be told that the technician had selected a different location several miles away.

“Somehow we made it there on time, probably breaking several traffic laws doing so,” David recalls. This sudden change of plans resulted in the creation of an unnecessary high-stress situation, just as the harried young man was going to undergo a scientifically dubious examination that measures, among other things, his stress levels.

The second polygraph examination resulted in Donny being sent back to confinement to be treated for what were described as “thinking errors.”

“What on earth is a `thinking error’?” David asked, his voice burdened with incredulity. One of the doctors who examined Donny asked the same question: “He told us that he had no idea what was meant by the expression `thinking error,’ or how it could be treated.”

This meant another prolonged separation from the family as Donny made the circuit of treatment facilities in Idaho and Utah. Despite the anxiety, depression, and other difficulties he faced, Donny excelled in his independent study program, earning top grades in academic subjects and finding a place on the Honor Roll. Yet with metronomic regularity, some new problem would arise to extend his period of confinement and prevent him from graduating.

After Donny enrolled in the Rebound School, David recalls, “We went to a counselor … to try arranging an alternative to a polygraph. The proposal was that he would undergo six additional counseling sessions, and do some special assignments, in place of the polygraph examination.” David says that this alternative course was approved, leaving the family hopeful that the ordeal was, at last, winding down. He was once again living at home, flourishing in his studies, and doing volunteer work, along with his mother, every Thursday night at a food pantry run by a church in Kuna.

Every evaluation attested that Donny was not a danger to “re-offend.” If the object had been rehabilitation, that goal had clearly been achieved. But the probation and parole system is run by people who have the power to prolong the suffering of harmless people, and the whimsical cruelty necessary to do so on the thinnest pretext.

“We were half-way through the supplemental therapy sessions when the probation officer showed up and arrested him at school” last November 18, David recalls. “He had called the Principal at the Rebound Academy and found out that Donny had two weeks left to finish his work for graduation.” In what could reasonably be construed as an act of deliberate sadism, the probation officer waited until Donny’s birthday to drag him away from school in handcuffs.

“Our family had prepared a birthday party for Donny,” Dave points out. “The kids came home from school eager to see their brother, expecting to have a party. Instead we find out that he was arrested.”

According to the State of Idaho, the “kids” who were so eager to see Donny were his victims, and they needed to be protected from him. The terms dictated to the family made it impossible for David, who is on disability, to find a job: While Donny was at home, one of his parents had to be present to supervise him, especially when the younger children were at home.

“It’s been six years, and our family simply cannot take it anymore,” David told the judge during the January 14 hearing in which it was decided that the state Corrections system would steal another 168 days of Donny’s life.

“Idaho has to be number one in something – and it’s number one in dropout rate,” Norma pointed out in her statement to the judge. “I don’t want my kid to be a statistic.”

Donny wasn’t merely a statistic:  He was in many ways typical of thousands of troubled but essentially harmless people who are devoured by the tax-fueled engine of misery called the Idaho Criminal Justice System.

Despite its reputation for being commendably hostile toward government, the state ranks second in the country in terms of the prison population’s growth rate.

Those convicted of non-violent offenses in Idaho compose 62 percent of the inmate population, and they typically serve sentences twice as long as the national average.

Over the next five years, barring dramatic changes in the system, Idaho tax victims will pay roughly $300 million in prison construction and operating costs. The “corrections” system is an immensely lucrative racket, sustaining not only those directly employed to operate prisons and jails but also the profiteers  who populate an ever-expanding network of “private” organizations affiliated with the probation and parole system.

Among the changes being considered by the Idaho legislature is a proposal to hire more probation and parole officers and authorize them “to impose immediate sanctions for violators.” As the ordeal of Donny and his family illustrates, such “reforms” would not be an improvement. Non-violent “offenders” sentenced to probation are handed a Sisyphean stone and assigned an overseer who can extend their suffering at his discretion.

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*The names of the children have been changed for the purposes of this story.

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