A private Louisiana prison housing Idaho inmates has problems with medical care, programming and staff training, Idaho corrections officials said Friday.
“They weren’t ready for our 300 inmates when they hit there,” said Idaho Corrections Director Jim Spalding.
Programs for inmates on such things as anger management and substance abuse were promised, but hadn’t yet been set up. Some facilities at the new private lockup were still under construction.
Idaho inmates and their families have besieged the department with complaints about conditions in Louisiana. Idaho has 300 prisoners housed there, and another 450 in Texas and Minnesota, for lack of prison space in Idaho.
More than 100 Idaho inmates rioted over the conditions two weeks ago, causing $35,000 in damage. Twenty were then sent to a county jail in Louisiana.
“We’ve got a large group of inmates that don’t want to be in Louisiana. They want to be in the state of Idaho,” Spalding said. “They’re going to do anything they can and say anything they can to be returned.”
But, he said, “The fallacy of that argument is they’re not going to be returned. If the Louisiana contract doesn’t work out, that just means I’ve got to come up with 300 beds somewhere else.”
Idaho sent two corrections officials - Idaho State Correctional Institution Warden Joe Klauser and Bureau of Offender Programs manager Mark Gornik to Louisiana to interview inmates and look at the facility.
Klauser said Friday: “The Basile Detention Center is a clean but austere facility. Few opportunities are presently available to provide habilitative needs and diversionary activities.”
At Idaho’s urging, the Basile center has hired additional staff and is starting up new programs, Idaho officials said.
Spalding said things like classes and substance abuse treatment programs aren’t provided at Idaho county jails where state inmates are housed. But they were promised to Idaho in the contract it signed with the Basile prison.
“In hindsight, I would put more wiggle room in that contract,” Spalding said. But since the programs are required, they will be provided or the contract will be canceled, he said.
Gornik remained at Basile this week, to help the prison set up its new programs.
Spalding said some of the two officials’ findings show an urgent need for correction.
“There are some constitutional issues there that I don’t think we can waver on,” he said. “Medical care is one.”
Idaho inmates were mistakenly informed that they had to pay co-payments to see a nurse or receive a prescription; actually, only Louisiana inmates have to pay.
But Spalding said the 500-bed prison had only one nurse, and that was inadequate. The Basile center has since hired a second nurse, and is attempting to arrange for a doctor’s services.
Another team of Idaho corrections officials will go to Louisiana a week from Monday to determine whether the center is complying with contract provisions, including the one requiring adequate medical care.
“If I’ve got to terminate the contract, I’ll do that fairly quickly,” Spalding said.
But, he said, “The staff is really anxious to accommodate the Idaho inmates.”
As a private, for-profit facility, “If they don’t have our inmates they don’t make money.”
Concerns over conditions in Louisiana also were raised by the Idaho chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.
As a result, privacy screens are being added in toilet areas, more inmate jobs are being made available, and the prison has stopped illegally opening inmates’ mail without the inmates present.
The Louisiana prison has a full set of Idaho law books for inmate use, Idaho corrections spokesman Mark Carnopis said.
The day after Idaho inmates rioted, the head of the Louisiana Department of Corrections asked that Idaho and Louisiana inmates at the prison be separated, Spalding said. The two groups fall under different laws and rules, from their medical care fees to what clothing they’re provided.
Previously, the two groups had been mixed in dormitories at the prison.
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