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Eye On Boise

Report: Idaho should replace its worst prisons

Idaho should start planning now to replace the state's most outdated, inefficient, hard-to-staff and expensive-to-run prisons, a new report from the Legislature Office of Performance Evaluations found today, a move that would yield big long-term savings and set the state up to better manage the growing inmate numbers of the future. The problem: No money. Click below to read more from AP reporter Rebecca Boone; you can see the full performance evaluation here.

State audit suggests replacing old Idaho prisons
By REBECCA BOONE, Associated Press Writer

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — 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 cell blocks 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 also 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. C.L. "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 totalling an estimated $35 million, the report said.

More than half the prisons don't have enough staffers to ensure that inamtes are continously monitored, the report found. National correction standards call for continuous monitoring to protect inmates, guards and the public.

Compounding problems, the analysts found, are mandatory furloughs and other emergency moneysaving efforts made as the Correction Department tried to absorb statewide budget cuts and comply with mandatory zero-increase budgeting. The furloughs total about 80,000 hours — the equivalent of 39 layoffs.

Currently, the state determines the number of "posts" or guard positions at each prison based on the number of full-time staffers available. The report said the state should shift to a new system of determining the number of posts needed to safely monitor the inmates and then staff accordingly.

Idaho Department of Correction Director Brent Reinke is pushing for other ways to reduce the prison population and save money, asking lawmakers to create a new, 270-day retained jurisdiction program. That's about double the length of the current retained jurisdiction program, which allows judges to send defendants to a short, therapy-intensive prison stay and then release them for good behavior.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.

Eye On Boise

News, happenings and more from the Idaho Legislature and the state capital.