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Report recommends new prisons

Otter says state budget rules out projects for now

BOISE – The Idaho Legislature’s government watchdog office says it costs more to operate some state prisons than it would to replace them with newer, more efficient facilities.

The report from the Office of Performance Evaluations, which examined layout, maintenance and staffing issues of each prison, was presented to a legislative committee Tuesday.

Of the state’s nine prisons, the Pocatello Women’s Correction Center was the least efficient, the office found, in part because it has small cellblocks and requires more correctional officers to monitor inmates. Replacing that prison would save Idaho 18 percent – about $1.3 million – over 50 years, according to the report.

The report also said the state could enhance security and save money by replacing some units at the Idaho Correctional Institution in Orofino and the Idaho Maximum Security Institution and Idaho State Correctional Institution in Boise. Replacing all the projects would net the state about $1.7 million a year for the next 50 years, analysts found.

Office evaluator Carrie DeLong Parrish told lawmakers that she knew it was hard to consider investing money in new prison buildings during a tight budget year. Still, Parrish said, lawmakers should consider planning those replacements now, possibly by using deferred financing in which loan payments on building the prisons don’t begin until they’re actually occupied.

But Gov. Butch Otter said he’ll oppose any efforts to significantly renovate or build new prison facilities while the state budget is struggling.

“It is unwise and unfair to the taxpayers to saddle future leaders with capital projects and ongoing operational expenses without first ensuring sufficient resources to cover the liabilities,” Otter wrote in a letter to the Office of Performance Evaluations. “When economic conditions improve and offer more certainty, I will work with legislative leaders to address the facility needs of Idaho’s prison system in a responsible manner.”

Idaho’s prison population is expected to grow 18 percent from nearly 7,300 inmates this year to more than 8,600 inmates in 2013, according to the report. They’re housed in prisons that are dilapidated and increasingly expensive to maintain, with the current backlog of overdue maintenance work totaling an estimated $35 million, the report said.