Idaho prison population spikes

POCATELLO, Idaho — The state’s already full prisons are getting more crowded as the inmate population grows at a significantly increased rate.

The inmate population has increased more in the past nine months than during the previous five years, according to numbers reported by the Idaho State Journal in a story published today.

More than 370 inmates were added to Idaho prisons during the first nine months of the current fiscal year, which started in July. About 220 inmates were added to the state’s prisons during the previous five years.

Idaho’s prison population now totals 7,951 with about 700 overflow inmates housed at county jails, which are at or near capacity throughout southeastern Idaho.

Caribou County Sheriff Ric Anderson said the overflow program has worked out well for his jail. It raises nearly $600,000 a year housing inmates for the state, money that will go toward a new, modern detention facility for the county, Anderson said.

The state is currently renting 26 jail beds to house inmates at the Caribou County Jail in Soda Springs.

“We have plenty of space in the jail to house the inmates, so it’s a good program for us,” he said. “Every once in a while we will have more inmates than we do beds, but when that happens we have transportable cots that we bring in to utilize until the number goes back down.”

The Bannock County Jail in Pocatello is also at capacity. The facility does house state prisoners but not as part of the state’s overflow program, said Capt. Kevin Fonnesbeck of the Bannock County Sheriff’s Office.

“They are here either because they need to be in court here in the county or they are parole violators and we are holding them until we can get them sent back to Boise,” Fonnesbeck said.

Lawmakers included $1.5 million in the Idaho Department of Correction’s budget for next year to cover the cost of housing overflow inmates in county jails.

In the past the state has been forced to send inmates to out-of-state prisons to avoid overcrowding. Corrections department spokesman Jeff Ray said in March that officials expect to be forced to do so again at the end of 2012.

Meanwhile, the agency is dusting off plans for a secure mental health facility. The project, which was derailed amid the economic downturn, is expected to provide 300 beds for inmates with mental health problems. The agency is considering expanding the facility’s potential capacity given the growth in the inmate population.

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