Eye On Boise

Senate backs funds for state takeover of privately run prison

The Senate has voted unanimously, 34-0, in favor of SB 1245, the supplemental appropriation bill to spend $1.9 million during the current budget year to transition the troubled Idaho Correctional Center south of Boise from private to state operation on July 1; the bill now moves to the House side. “It’s important for us to pass it,” Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, told the Senate. Deadlines are coming up for potential new prison guards to enter Idaho’s POST academy in time to be trained and ready to go by July 1. “One of our first and foremost responsibilities as a state is to keep our citizens safe,” Cameron said.

Sen. Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, said he’s looking into whether any statutory changes are required in conjunction with the changeover, but was comfortable approving the expenditure, with the assurance that that question will be answered before next year’s prison budget is set. Sen. Steve Vick, R-Dalton Gardens, told the Senate, “I was one of a very few who voted against this bill in JFAC.” But he said since then, his concerns have been addressed. “I feel that this is a necessary step at this time,” Vick said. “I do think that we need to be aware that this doesn’t permanently require us to make this a state-run facility. We have the option, it’s my understanding, to go back to a privately run facility. So with that knowledge … I am comfortable with this, and I am voting aye.”

The ICC, the state’s largest prison with 2,080 male inmates, has been at the center of multiple lawsuits, scandals, allegations of fraud by the Corrections Corp. of America over understaffing, and reports of such pervasive violence and gang activity that the lockup was nicknamed the “Gladiator School.” In December, Gov. Butch Otter announced that he’d asked the state Department of Correction to take over the prison’s operation on July 1 when CCA’s contract expires, rather than hunt for another private contractor; CCA had already said it wouldn’t bid on a new contract, as had the nation’s second-largest private prison firm.

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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Russell covers Idaho news from the state capitol in Boise and writes the Eye on Boise blog.

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