Idaho is facing a serious prison problem. The state doesn’t have enough space for its current inmate population and, worse, analysts worry that, by 2022, the state could be short space for 2,400 inmates.
A solution the Idaho Department of Correction has been using for the capacity problem since February 2018 has been to ship some 306 inmates out-of-state, to the Karnes County Correctional Center in Texas. But, that is about to change. As early as this month, all the KCCC inmates will be moved to the Eagle Pass Detention Facility in Texas.
In addition to moving all of the inmates that are currently out-of-state to this Eagle Pass facility, the IDOC may send more inmates from in-state facilities, to total up to the 678 inmates allowed by this contract. If a total of 678 inmates are housed in the Eagle Pass Facility, that would mean that by 2022, this out-of-state prison will house 1 out of every 14 inmates under the IDOC’s jurisdiction.
Yet, this number is even more dramatic if you account for the portion of the expansion efforts to meet the 2,400-bed need that this out-of-state prison represents. The IDOC knows it will encounter a capacity problem by 2022, so it has already set plans for some of its facilities as well as agreements with facilities it contracts with to expand by 771 beds. This switch of out-of-state institutions expands the number of out-of-state inmates by 372. Meaning that about one out of every two new beds that are being used to relieve Idaho’s prison overcrowding by 2022 will be in prisons out of the state. So, half of the IDOC’s efforts to relieve Idaho prison overcrowding aren’t even being vested in Idaho.
Placing Idaho’s prison capacity solution with this out-of-state facility is not beneficial to inmates under Idaho’s jurisdiction nor to Idahoans in general because of the negative effects of the contract with the facility. Due to our immediate need for beds, the IDOC has lacked the upper hand in contract negotiations. The IDOC’s arrangement with the Texas facility only includes inmates that do not have a pattern of violence or a record of attempted escape—in short, Idaho’s most well-behaved inmates. According to IDOC Director Henry Atencio, these are “common exclusions that we have to deal with when we move inmates out-of-state.”
This contract puts a burden on the inmates sent to Texas because it hinders their ability to see their family. This contract also places a burden on the Idaho prison employees because the facilities they are left with are more densely populated by the violent, hardened convicts. Finally, this harms the prisoners who remain in Idaho as they lose role models that showcase good behavior.
The out-of-state facility is also not a permanent solution as an inmate will not spend his full sentence out-of-state. He will be transported back to Idaho as his release date nears in order to receive pre-release treatment, because no matter where the inmates are kept during the time they serve, they are released into Idaho communities. The IDOC’s current capacity expansion intentions place too much of the solution to Idaho’s prison problem outside the state’s borders.