Lapses found at
Guards' backgrounds are
being rechecked at all
five private facilities
DENVER » State prison officials are reviewing background checks for employees at the state's five privately run prisons after discovering that some employees at one of them had criminal records.
State Corrections Department spokeswoman Alison Morgan said yesterday that five convicted criminals and three people whose backgrounds "merited further investigation" had been hired at the Brush Correctional Facility, a privately run women's prison where several guards face charges of having consensual sex with inmates and smuggling tobacco into the facility. Nearly a third of the prison's inmates are women from Hawaii.
None of the guards with suspect backgrounds were involved in the alleged sexual misconduct, and all but one has been fired or resigned, Morgan said. Officials were still reviewing records for the eighth, she said.
The guards' records came to light during the investigation of the alleged sexual misconduct, Morgan said.
Morgan said a former warden for GRW Corp., a Brentwood, Tenn.-based company that has held a state contract to run the prison for 18 months, failed to complete background checks for some employees. The failure was first reported by KCNC-TV of Denver.
"We don't hire questionable people, and that's the embarrassing part," GRW President Gil Walker told KCNC.
Walker, who was meeting with a state task force at the prison yesterday, did not immediately return a call.
Brush warden Rick Soares resigned in February.
Morgan said GRW officials acted quickly after the state agency discovered in January that some employees had criminal histories -- either criminal convictions or arrests. One of them is a former Brush police officer, she said.
Since then, each of the prison's approximately 65 employees has cleared background checks, and the company began requiring job applicants to undergo personality assessments, something GRW's state contract does not require.
She said it appears that fingerprints for the guards sent to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation were smudged or otherwise unreadable. The prints were sent back to the prison, which did not follow up, Morgan said.
"That's where the failure of leadership was," she said.
Nashville, Tenn.-based Corrections Corp. of America runs the other four private prisons in Colorado. The state's contracts with CCA and GRW require the companies to conduct background checks of their employees.
Morgan said the Corrections Department's Private Prisons Monitoring Unit does not have the staff or funding to regularly conduct its own background checks of private-prison employees.
The Brush prison holds about 200 inmates, including about 80 from Hawaii, 73 from Colorado and 45 from Wyoming.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii said the "growing scandal" at the prison requires an "immediate, independent and thorough investigation."