Private work-release centers for prisoners might be headed to North Idaho under a plan endorsed by corrections officials Friday.
The private centers for soon-to-be-released inmates would be similar to current state-operated community work centers. Inmates can go to work at a regular job during the day, then return at night to be locked up and go through counseling, drug treatment and the like.
Idaho has four of these state-run centers now and a fifth under construction in Boise - but none in North Idaho, and no money to build more.
The Board of Correction unanimously agreed to seek proposals from private companies to offer that kind of service on a fee-per-inmate basis. The state Correction Department now will finalize a request for proposals, and hopes to have bids in by the time the state legislative session starts in January.
‘We need one of those in North Idaho,” said Janet Jenkins, a Correction Board member and Sandpoint attorney. “Our prisoners come from all parts of the state.”
Eugene Larson, director of field and community services for state Corrections, said North Idaho inmates who are nearing release are now sometimes sent to work centers in southern Idaho. The centers are used to help inmates make the transition from incarceration to freedom.
But, he said, “Then when their parole date comes, they’ve got to leave their job and start all over in Coeur d’Alene.”
All four of Idaho’s community work centers are filled beyond their original capacity. They are located in Nampa, Idaho Falls, Twin Falls and Boise.
“With this proposal, we’re going to kind of fill in with private providers where we currently don’t have these,” Larson said.
The proposal that Larson presented to the board envisions a center for five to eight female inmates and another for 30-45 male inmates in the Coeur d’Alene area. Additional centers could be located in Lewiston, Caldwell, Twin Falls, Burley or Pocatello.
The final locations will depend on the bids received, Larson said.
The proposal says a quarter of an inmate’s earnings from working may be used toward the cost of his or her stay at the center.
It also says companies submitting bids must be registered vendors with the state Division of Purchasing, must obtain all necessary permits and carry liability insurance, and must offer programs ranging from substance abuse treatment and anger management classes to medical services. In addition, all employees must pass background checks.
Idaho passed a new law this year to allow the state to contract with private companies for prisons. The law paved the way for a giant new private prison that a Nashville-based company plans to build on state land in Boise by July of 1999.
Idaho’s prisons have been over-flowing after a decade of enacting increasingly tough sentencing laws. The state now has 748 inmates housed out of state, and another 259 backed up in county jails.
Slow inmate growth the past few months has left the state 5 percent under its prisons’ “emergency capacity,” but still well over the number its prisons were designed to hold.
John Hayden, Correction Board chairman, said he thinks the “concept is great” for privatized community work centers. “My only concern is that we’re able to control the costs and manage the operations so that we don’t have any below-standard operations,” he said.
Only inmates who are classified as minimum or community custody can go to work centers. Inmate classifications are based on a formula that takes into account the original crime and the inmate’s behavior.
If the state receives acceptable bids and signs contracts for private work centers, they would be funded in the same way that the state funds beds for inmates out of state and in county jails. The department requests the money from the state Legislature each year to pay the per-inmate fees for those beds.