A hundred Idaho inmates now housed in a troubled private prison in Louisiana will be sent back to Idaho.
The move comes as the district attorney in Evangeline Parish, La., has raised concerns about dangerous criminals housed at the dormitory-style private prison. Five Idaho inmates escaped from the prison Sept. 25, including two murderers and a rapist. One of the five, child molester Kallahan Lee Ziegler, still is on the loose.
“They have re-evaluated the security level of our inmates, and they have formally requested that approximately 100 inmates be returned to Idaho,” said Mark Carnopis, Idaho Corrections Department spokesman.
“We will find room for them,” Carnopis said. “And if this will contribute to smoother operations at Basile, we’re all for that.”
About 100 Idaho inmates rioted at the Basile Detention Center in July. Twenty-two of those are facing rioting charges in Louisiana.
Both Carnopis and Floyd Antley, operations manager for the company that owns and operates the prison, said the company and Idaho will split the cost of returning the 100 inmates.
But in the contract between Louisiana Corrections Services Inc. and the state, the only allowance for splitting the transportation cost is when inmates must be returned because the state of Louisiana, Evangeline Parish or a court prevents them from being held at Basile.
If the company makes the decision on its own to send the inmates back, the contract says the company must pay the full transportation cost. When the 300 Idaho inmates now at Basile were first flown there, it cost the state $113,232 to transport them.
Antley insisted that the decision to send back a third of the Idaho inmates was part of a routine, periodic look at inmate classifications.
“This is a normal prison process,” he said. “It’s not instigated by the D.A., it’s not instigated by anyone.”
But Idaho corrections officials said the district attorney’s concerns triggered the move, and the agreement to split the costs.
District Attorney Brent Coreil has launched an investigation of operations at Basile, and has questioned whether the prison had the proper permits to open.
“The decision was made jointly based on the actions that were being taken by the district attorney of Evangeline Parish,” said Jake Howard, an Idaho corrections official who is overseeing the Basile contract.
Antley said he didn’t know whether the prison would send back those who have committed the worst crimes, saying the prison’s classification board considers other factors like inmate behavior.
But Carnopis said, “It’s the medium-security ones.”
Basile houses medium- and minimum-security inmates. Those security levels are determined through a formula that takes into account both the original crime and the inmate’s behavior in prison. Many violent criminals who have behaved well in prison are classified as medium security.
Coreil said this week that he thought the Basile center was only supposed to house nonviolent inmates. After the escapes, he said, residents of the rural area near the prison and the small town of Basile are “living in fear.”
Coreil could not be reached for comment Friday. He has scheduled a meeting Monday in his office with Antley, the owners of the Basile center, its warden, and an Idaho contract liaison.
Carnopis said Idaho and Basile are adjusting their contract downward from 300 to 200 inmates, so no additional inmates will be sent to Louisiana to replace those who are returned.
The return will happen within the next two to three weeks, Carnopis said. The exact time won’t be announced, for security reasons.
Carnopis estimated that the 300 Idaho inmates at Basile are split about evenly between medium and minimum security. “I know that the concern has been in the area of medium-custody inmates, so…we’ll be sending the majority of the medium-custody inmates back.
“They certainly want to make this work, and we want to make it work, too,” he said.
Carnopis said the recaptured escapees and those facing rioting charges will stay in Louisiana.
Idaho has more than 200 empty beds across its prison system because of flat inmate growth over the past three months. But those beds were gained by crowding additional beds into existing prison space. All Idaho prisons are filled beyond the number they originally were designed to hold.
Idaho’s prison population has skyrocketed over the past 10 years, as the state enacted increasingly tough sentencing laws. There now are 748 inmates held out of state, and more than 250 backed up in county jails.
Carnopis said the prisons will scramble to identify appropriate beds for the returnees. The available beds are scattered across Idaho prisons, and some aren’t suitable for medium-security male inmates.