BOISE - Idaho’s state prison system won’t take the same cuts other state agencies are facing next year - instead, under a budget approved by lawmakers this morning, it’d see a 5.3 percent increase in state funding and 4.1 percent in overall funds.
“You really don’t have a lot of choices here,” said Rep. Darrell Bolz, R-Caldwell. “Public safety is a function of government, and when you’ve got so many inmates … nobody wants ‘em out on the streets.”
The budget still falls $2.6 million short of estimates of what the prison system will cost the state next year. Bolz, House Appropriations vice-chairman, who proposed the budgets, said they’re very close to spending levels recommended by Gov. Butch Otter. “You basically hope the numbers go down,” he said. If they don’t, the state would have to approve supplemental appropriations next year to make up the difference.
“I realize it’s a little bit over target,” Bolz told the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee.
The joint committee has been attempting to slash all state agency budgets by 2.2 percent beyond Otter’s proposed $35 million in targeted cuts, but has been finding that task difficult thus far. Before approving the $7.8 million boost in prison funding this morning, JFAC already was more than $1.6 million behind its goal, with most of the state budget still to be set.
The successful budget funds the 3 percent increases required by the state’s contract with Corrections Corp. of America to operate the ICC, the Idaho Correctional Center, the problem-plagued private prison south of Boise. The privately operated lockup has been the target of multiple lawsuits over prison violence and more.
Bolz said he thought the state Department of Correction was “making some changes” in response to the incidents there, including “monitoring much better now” and addressing how authorities there respond to incidents. He noted that between 35 and 40 percent of the state’s corrections budget now goes to contract payments that are pre-set.
Bolz said he’s hoping with the ramping up of the Correctional Alternative Placement Program, often referred to as the CAPP facility, that Idaho will see its prison population decline further. The program focuses on intensive treatment, and has a capacity of 400.
“I think we’re seeing some positive things happening in the Department of Correction over the last three or four years,” Bolz said. “The number of people being incarcerated is down from what we had projected, which is good. But we still have a long way to go this year and next year as well. Hopefully the CAPP facility … will help us get a handle.”
The budget was approved in nine separate motions for individual programs within the department; all passed on unanimous votes except the portion for the private prison, which drew three “no” votes, from Sen. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise; and Reps. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow; and Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum; and the portion for the prison medical services contract, which drew one “no” vote from LeFavour.
The budget bill still needs approval from the House and Senate and the governor’s signature to become law, but budget bills rarely are changed once they’re set by the joint committee.