Otter: State should operate Idaho's largest private prison

Otter: State should operate Idaho's largest private prison

A file photo of the inside of the Idaho Correctional Center, the state's largest private prison, housing nearly a quarter of Idaho's inmates.

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by Matt Standal & Scott Evans

Bio | Email | Follow: @KTVBMatt

KTVB.COM

Posted on January 3, 2014 at 12:09 PM

Updated Wednesday, Jan 22 at 12:41 PM

BOISE – Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter wants the state to take over operations at the private prison in South Boise. Corrections Corporation of America or CCA currently runs the facility.

CCA says it will not bid to keep running the prison and other companies have also dropped out of the bidding process. Otter said Friday during the AP Legislative Preview that he was left with few options, leaving the state to take it over as his best option.

CCA has run this prison since it was built in 2000. Idaho prison leaders went looking for a new company to run the state's largest prison after CCA admitted to understaffing and overbilling for its work operating the Idaho Correctional Center.

Officers with the Idaho State Police are currently investigating whether CCA's understaffing amounted to a crime or civil violation.

Otter told gathered members of the media Friday that his goal was convince the Idaho Board Of Correction to shift its focus from finding another private prison contractor to assuming operation of the Idaho Correctional Center just outside of Boise.

The facility houses approximately one-quarter of the state's incarcerated population.

“After thoroughly reviewing all the facts and issues, as well as the heightened level of judicial oversight of operations there, it is apparent to me that our goal of consistently successful day-to-day operation is better served at this time by the State of Idaho taking a more direct management role at ICC,” Governor Otter wrote in a letter to Board of Correction Chairman Robin Sandy.

Otter wrote that he'd been convinced of financial support by members of the Idaho legislature's Joint Finance Advisory Committee. The Board of Correction is expected to meet as soon as possible to consider the request.

"I think it's the right thing to do. Is it the desirable thing for me to do? Not necessarily, because we have better hopes for outcome in privatization," said Otter.

Taking something back from the private sector umbrella and putting it under the umbrella of government is a pill that is hard for Governor Butch Otter to swallow.

"It's disappointing, but I think it's also recognizing what is happening, has happened, it's necessary," said Otter.

Monica Hopkins with ACLU of Idaho says she was surprised and pleased by the governor's announcement, saying it's a first step in the right direction.

"There are still changes that need to be made and standards that need to be met at that facility and indeed at all Idaho run facilities," said Hopkins.

The ACLU has kept a close eye on the prison for years, including litigation.

"We uncovered many things, one of which was understaffing, and other things that are basically cutting corners that private prisons do to maximize their profits for their shareholders," said Hopkins.

Otter hopes those corners won't be cut if the state is able to regain control.

"We've had problems under both, hoping to learn from those lessons we will be able to go forward, and in the next couple of years establish the kind of protocols that are necessary for how that prison should be run," said Otter.

While Otter wants the government to retake control of running the prison, he wants the Idaho Board of Correction to look at privatizing other operations within the prison, like food, training, education and out-reach.

At this point, this is not a done deal. All that’s happened is the governor has asked the Idaho Board of Correction to shift focus from finding a company to take over  to the state preparing to run the facility.

The board will need to sign off on this request and will meet next week to discuss the idea.

Whatever happens, it needs to happen fast, as CCA's last contract day is June 30th.

Idaho still has 245 inmates at a CCA facility in Colorado. Hopkins and the ACLU would like to see those inmates brought back to Idaho.

That could be one of the topics brought up in the legislature this year, as Governor Otter said it's time for criminal justice reform.

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