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Wednesday, October 28, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Eye On Boise

Idaho, facing crowded prisons, to send inmates out of state

By Rebecca Boone, Associated Press

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — As many as 1,000 Idaho inmates could soon be serving out their time in out-of-state prisons as the state grapples with overcrowding at home.

The inmates could end up in a private prison facility – despite Idaho's long history of trouble when it comes to getting some private prison providers to meet the terms of their contracts.

Idaho Department of Correction Director Henry Atencio notified the Board of Correction and several lawmakers on Wednesday that despite efforts to increase prison capacity and reduce inmate numbers, the inmate population continues to grow. Atencio says the department anticipates it will need to start moving inmates to out-of-state facilities in March.

The state had just under 8,300 inmates in November, and that is expected to increase to more than 8,400 by March. By May of 2019, the state expects to have nearly 8,700 inmates — that's 1,000 more inmates than prison beds.

The growth is, in part, because Idaho's population continues to expand: The Idaho Department of Labor projects the state to grow more than 15 percent and reach nearly 2 million residents by 2025. More people means more crime.

Currently, the overflow of prison inmates is housed in county jails around the state. But that's a problem for some regions where county jails are also full.

"Our state transport team continues to work with county jail staff and we are doing everything we can to move inmates out of county jails as quickly as possible," Atencio wrote in his email to lawmakers. "We consistently hear from sherif's around the state that their jails are full."

In his email to lawmakers, Atencio said the department has already worked with the Parole Commission to utilize alternative sanctions for parole violators. Prison officials are also working to ensure that inmates sent to a shorter-term "retained jurisdiction" prison program are completing their required treatment and rehabilitation programs before their target release dates.

The Idaho Department of Correction is working with the Department of Administration to write a formal Request for Proposals for housing the inmates, IDOC spokesman Jeff Ray said.

Out of state prison placements are frequently with private prisons, and states usually pay a higher per-inmate, per-day rate than it costs to house prisoners in-state.

Rep. John Gannon, a Democrat from Boise, wrote in a news release this week that lawmakers need to find a better way to deal with overcrowding. He's previously pushed for expanding Idaho's minimum security facilities or building a secure mental health facility for prisoners with mental illnesses.

"It is in the Legislature's hands to find a better solution because private prisons don't always work well and failed in Idaho," Gannon wrote. "Further, sending offenders out of state makes rehabilitation even more difficult, because offenders lack family interaction and support."

In 2009, Idaho had to pull inmates from a Geo Group-run private prison in Texas after an investigation into an Idaho inmate's suicide revealed the facility was squalid and poorly operated. In 2013, Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter directed the state to take control of a then-CoreCivic-run prison after an Associated Press investigation revealed the company, then using the name Corrections Corporation of America, was falsifying reports to hide chronic understaffing.

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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