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Eye On Boise

Prison budget set; includes 3% increase for private prison firm CCA

The budget for Idaho's Department of Corrections for next year cleared the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee on a series of mostly unanimous votes today, but there was one exception: The budget for private prisons. That division will rise to $29.8 million next year, all in state general funds, per a contract requirement that per-inmate payments to the Corrections Corporation of America, which operates the Idaho Correctional Center south of Boise for the state, rise by 3 percent next year. "This is all on contract, and this is the rate which is in the contract," Rep. Darrell Bolz, R-Caldwell, the JFAC vice-chair who crafted the budget proposal, told the committee.

Rep. Diane Bilyeu, D-Pocatello, noted that after the increase, the daily rate per inmate of $42.73 for the first 1,894 inmates will be slightly higher than the state's rate to house state inmates in county jails. "My question is first of all, are the county placements, are those all full?" she asked. Bolz responded, "Currently we have contracts for about 400-450 beds and we're over 600 in county jails right now." He noted that most county jails provide no programs for long-term inmates, such as education, job training or substance-abuse treatment, but the private prison does.

Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, who isn't seeking re-election, said, "I would hope ... that when you look at this budget next year, that there would be a line item for administrative costs for the private prisons, because I think the daily per diem rate misrepresents what the state is really paying to manage the contract." JFAC Co-Chair Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, responded, "So noted, thank you." That portion of the prison budget then was approved, with the CCA increase, on a 17-3 vote; just Bilyeu, Sen. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise, and Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, voted against it.

Overall, the corrections budget approved by JFAC today shows a 7.3 percent increase over this year in state general funds, which is an $11.4 million increase, but a drop in other funds from this year; the overall increase in total funds is 3.5 percent. The budget includes a $3.8 million boost in ongoing state general funding for community-based treatment, to replace a similar amount funded on a one-time basis this year from the tobacco-settlement Millenium Fund. It also includes a $1.3 million boost in spending, all from general funds, for a 4.5 percent rate adjustment in the state's medical services contract for prison inmates. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Rebecca Boone.

Idaho prison budget grows slightly; guard pay lags
By REBECCA BOONE, Associated Press

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Lawmakers have approved a 3.5 percent increase for Idaho's Department of Correction, with much of the boost going to contracted medical services and community-based treatment programs.

The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee approved the $189.4 million budget Monday, an increase of more than $6.4 million from the previous year.

The department is faced with full prisons and a growing inmate population, and included in the new budget is $1.5 million from the general fund 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, and department spokesman Jeff Ray said officials expect to be forced to do so again at the end of 2012.

Department employees will also see a slight boost, with the committee approving nearly $1.5 million for changes to employee compensation rates. But even with the increase, pay for Idaho Department of Correction employees still lags behind that offered in neighboring states.

Idaho's prison guards have a median hourly wage of $14.38, compared to $19.49 in Wyoming, $23.56 in Oregon and $26.81 in Nevada.

Sen. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise, told fellow finance committee members she was worried that the increase in the approved budget wouldn't be enough to stop employees from leaving the department.

The turnover rate was 14 percent department-wide during fiscal year 2012, and 19 percent among guards.

"The department's had a really difficult time with retention of employees, just trying to address what has become really serious turnover," LeFavour said. "I'm a little bit worried that we haven't quite addressed that."

Almost $1.3 million in general fund money will go to cover an annual rate adjustment for Corizon, the company that provides medical services for all the state prisons.

Corrections Corporation of America, the company that runs the Idaho Correctional Center for the state, is also getting an additional $912,500 for its annual rate increase.

Another $3.8 million will go to cover community-based treatment services, which is largely handled by private companies.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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