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Idaho to look for new company to run private prison, but won’t look at running it itself…

Idaho prison leaders are looking for a new company to run the state's largest prison, the AP reports, after Corrections Corporation of America admitted to understaffing and overbilling for its work operating the Idaho Correctional Center. But the Idaho Department of Correction won't be allowed to submit its own bid or take over operations at the prison south of Boise, because Board of Correction Chairwoman Robin Sandy said that would amount to expanding state government.

The three-member Board of Correction made the decision during a meeting Tuesday evening, opting not to let an automatic two-year extension of CCA's $29.9 million contract kick in when the current contract expires on June 30, 2014. The board also decided that it would consolidate medical services at all the prisons under one statewide medical contract, rather than keeping the medical care services at the Idaho Correctional Center separate. Currently, Corizon provides medical care at every prison in the state except for Idaho Correctional Center, where it is handled by CCA. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Rebecca Boone.


APNewsBreak: Idaho prison contract up for bid
By REBECCA BOONE, Associated Press

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho prison leaders are looking for a new company to run the state's largest prison after Corrections Corporation of America admitted to understaffing and overbilling for its work operating the Idaho Correctional Center.

But the Idaho Department of Correction won't be allowed to submit its own bid or take over operations at the prison south of Boise, because Board of Correction Chairwoman Robin Sandy said that would amount to expanding state government.

The three-member Board of Correction made the decision during a meeting Tuesday evening, opting not to let an automatic two-year extension of CCA's $29.9 million contract kick in when the current contract expires on June 30, 2014. The board also decided that it would consolidate medical services at all the prisons under one statewide medical contract, rather than keeping the medical care services at the Idaho Correctional Center separate. Currently, Corizon provides medical care at every prison in the state except for Idaho Correctional Center, where it is handled by CCA.

CCA's Idaho spokeswoman Andrea Evans said she didn't know if the company would bid on a new contract.

The Idaho Correctional Center has a been rife with problems for the past several years, with inmates bringing multiple federal lawsuits alleging rampant violence, a policy of understaffing and a practice of guards ceding too much control to prison gangs. The ACLU of Idaho sued in 2010 on behalf of inmates who said the CCA-run facility was so violent that inmates called it “Gladiator School;” that lawsuit resulted in a settlement in which CCA promised to make widespread management and staffing changes. In 2011 the company reached a financial settlement with one inmate, Hanni Elabed, who was beaten by a fellow inmate until he suffered brain damage while several guards watched.

CCA's attorneys have vigorously fought the lawsuits and company officials maintain the safety and security of inmates and CCA employees are the CCA's top priorities.

An Associated Press investigation into CCA's staffing reports earlier this year showed the company sometimes listed its guards as working as much as 48 hours straight in order to fill minimum staffing requirements. The Idaho Department of Correction subsequently asked the Idaho State Police to investigate understaffing allegations at the Idaho Correctional Center, and CCA later admitted its employees falsified thousands of hours of staffing records during much of 2012. The Idaho State Police investigation is still under way and state officials have not yet released any details of their findings.

During Tuesday's meeting, Idaho Department of Correction Director Brent Reinke said CCA has been cooperative with the state's investigation and that investigators are “looking at some of the legal actions that are out there.”

Board member J.R. Van Tassel said it was time for the state to “shuffle the deck” and see what other potential bidders are interested in the contract. But Van Tassel said he also thought that the state needed an idea of what the real costs are for running the prison, and said that in order to do that, the Idaho Department of Correction should put together its own bid.

“The department should be putting in a bid as well, if not to compete for providing the management of that facility, at least to give us a real-time critical look at what the costs are to operate that,” Van Tassel said.

But the chairwoman of the board, Robin Sandy, said the department was too busy to spend the time needed to pull together a “courtesy bid.”

“Our people are just so slammed, to bid it for the sake of comparison … I don't know how we could expect people to go through the process with no intention of bidding on it,” Sandy said.

Reinke agreed that while he would appreciate the opportunity to examine the potential costs, his department wouldn't be able to pull together the information in the time span needed.

After the meeting, Sandy said she wouldn't rule anything out in the future, but that she didn't think the state should run the prison because that would amount to an expansion of government and she believes in small government.

“That would be several hundred more state employees, and they would be on the state system, and it would grow the entire government by several hundred,” she said.

Van Tassel countered that the state is already paying for the operation of the prison, it's simply giving the money to CCA instead of to its own people.

“We're already paying for those employees,” he said.

It's the second time the Board of Correction has decided against having the department examine what it would cost the state to run the facility. About five years ago Reinke asked the board and Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter's office if his department could bid for the contract to run ICC, and the board responded with a firm “no.”

The Idaho Correctional Center building and property is owned by the state but CCA has operated the facility since it opened in July 2000. The prison appeared to operate uneventfully for several years until so many inmates began filing lawsuits alleging similar civil rights abuses that a federal judge began consolidating the cases. Amid the lawsuits the U.S. Attorney's office for Idaho acknowledged that the FBI was also investigating the prison for alleged abuses against prisoners; that investigation is ongoing.


Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.


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Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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