Idaho will bring all its inmates back from a private prison in Louisiana, ending a contract marked by inmate rioting, complaints about conditions, an investigation by Louisiana officials and five escapes.
Idaho Department of Correction spokesman Mark Carnopis said Monday that the 200 inmates will be returned to Idaho between now and January, when the state will open a 536-bed addition at its main prison complex south of Boise.
The opening of the addition, plus a slowdown in growth of the inmate population over the past five months, means there’s room for the inmates, Carnopis said. The two-year contract will end after only about six months.
Without the Louisiana contract to fund, the department will be able to cut a $9 million supplemental budget request it had planned to present to legislators in January down to about $6.5 million.
Earlier, department officials had said that if cell space opened up in Idaho, they might be more likely to bring back inmates housed in Texas and Minnesota. That’s because Idaho is paying $49.95 per inmate per day in Minnesota and $39.75 in Texas but only $36.75 at the Basile Detention Center in Louisiana.
But, Carnopis said of Basile, “It was a difficult contract to monitor.”
Several Idaho prison officials traveled to Louisiana repeatedly to look into complaints about a lack of promised programming, poor food, inadequate medical care and lack of privacy. The inmates at Basile are housed dormitory-style in large rooms with bunkbeds.
In July, about 100 Idaho inmates rioted, causing up to $35,000 in damage. On Sept. 25, five Idaho inmates escaped, including two murderers and a rapist. One, a child molester from Rathdrum, still hasn’t been caught.
Evangeline Parish District Attorney Brent Coreil then launched an investigation of the Basile center, saying he thought it was designed to hold only non-violent offenders. The center holds minimum- and medium-custody male inmates.
In October, Idaho brought back 100 inmates at Basile officials’ request, including 23 murderers, nine rapists, nine kidnappers and 18 child molesters.
Carnopis said the decision to end the contract with Basile was made possible because Idaho’s inmate growth has slipped for the past five months. Although Idaho had a net gain of 71 prisoners in April and 33 in May, the prison population actually decreased by two in June, then dropped by eight in July, 13 in August, 36 in September and eight in October.
Prison officials have been reluctant each month to call the numbers a trend, because the two-year average monthly growth still is about 30 inmates. Idaho’s prison population has been skyrocketing in recent years, jumping from 1,418 in 1996 to 4,104 on July 1 of this year.
By doubling up inmates in cells and shoe-horning extra inmates into existing prison space, Idaho has fit in most of its prisoners, but it now has about 650 in expensive rented beds out of state, and 200 backed up in county jails. Every state prison facility holds more inmates than it was designed to hold, and the state is finalizing plans for Idaho’s first private prison, to hold 1,250 inmates and open in 1999.
Nevertheless, state prison officials have identified about 130 open beds at various state prisons that could accommodate some of the Louisiana inmates, depending on their custody levels. When the 536-bed addition opens, the state also may be able to bring back some inmates from Minnesota or Texas, Carnopis said.
“We’ve always said that this was a short-term solution to a bad problem we had,” he said. “Any time you can reduce the number of areas where you’re holding inmates out of state, it’s definitely something that makes us happy.”
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