Sandy Faulkner/Ward used to visit her husband in prison here three times a week.
Then one day, he called her - from Texas.
Idaho gave inmates and their families no warning before it transferred about 250 prisoners to a county jail in Frio, Texas, earlier this spring for lack of cell space in Idaho.
Now, prison officials have decided to let the next batch - about 300 inmates who will be sent to Louisiana - know in advance.
“The obvious problem with notifying them in advance is they get lawyers; they try to get court orders and block it,” said Jim Spalding, Idaho corrections director. “We’ve had some of that.”
But the Texas transfer led to a flood of complaints over how it was handled.
“It was a terrible experience,” said Faulkner/Ward. “He had no idea that he would be taken.”
She has gone to Texas once to visit her husband, who is serving time for a parole violation stemming from a second-degree murder conviction. The trip cost her $700.
Overflowing with inmates, the Idaho prison system first shipped prisoners to a private prison in Minnesota with a reputation for a campuslike environment and educational programs. Most of the 200 who went were volunteers.
But when it came time to ship inmates to a spare county jail in Texas, “we didn’t give them any option,” Spalding said. “We walked in here at 4 o’clock at night, locked the institution down, walked into the cell and said, ‘You are being transferred. Here’s a box; put your belongings in it. Here’s a letter.”’
The Corrections Department learned from that experience, Spalding said.
For example, the inmates were sent out wearing shower thongs. Then they were put in leg irons, which “burred up some of their legs,” Spalding said. “So this time we’ll make sure they get socks on them.”
Families were sent form letters saying their relatives had been transferred, and giving an address where they could write to them.
Mark Carnopis, the department’s public information officer who sent the letters, got about 80 frantic phone calls over the next two days.
“It was just incredible,” he said.
Said Spalding, “This is a new business for us as far as transferring inmates. We’re just kind of developing it as we go.”
For security reasons, no one will be told in advance when the transfer will be made. It will be within the next couple of months.
Idaho minimum and medium security inmates will be sent to the Basile Detention Center in Evangeline Parish, La. It’s a private, 550-bed prison that has air conditioning, a law library and a high-school equivalency degree program.
Idaho will pay $37 a day to house each of its inmates there. The state is paying $39.75 a head for the Texas cell space, and $49.95 for Minnesota.
When the Louisiana transfer is completed, Idaho will have 750 inmates out of state, plus hundreds more backed up in county jails.
A 536-bed addition at the Idaho State Correctional Institution at Boise, will open in October. But it’ll be full right away.
The state has a request out now for proposals from private firms for a new 1,250-bed prison with expansion space for up to 3,000.
Spalding said out-of-state beds are not a sure bet.
Idaho could lose its out-of-state beds if another state offers more money. Plus, the state loses some control when its inmates are housed out of state, and runs up transportation costs.
But with Idaho’s prison population swelling by about 40 inmates a month, the state has little choice. Already, inmates are doubled up with bunkbeds in cells built for one.
For Faulkner/Ward, it’s been an expensive heartache.
“The calls are so expensive you can’t afford it. They charge almost a dollar a minute,” she said. “As far as visits and family contact, they don’t have any, which isn’t good for their recovery and outlook.”