Idaho’s prison system can’t absorb further spending reductions without lowering services and potentially safety, according to Idaho Department of Correction Director Brent Reinke.
“We simply cannot do more with less,” Reinke told lawmakers Friday. “We must do less if more budget cuts are required.” He said that could mean releasing more inmates from prisons. “Further cuts mean we need another mechanism for further releases.” Lawmakers would have to decide on any potential new release programs. “We don’t have a safety valve to make that happen,” Reinke said. The state could save $5 million by immediately releasing 250 prisoners.
State prisons face a $2.5 million reduction in the next state budget, though Gov. Butch Otter is recommending an $8.7 million increase to the correction department as a whole. Those increases are coming from two main sources. First, the new Correctional Alternative Placement Program (CAPP) facility in Boise, which should save money by providing less costly, 90-day treatment for some low-risk offenders, is scheduled to open in June. Second, some ongoing contracts for prison services, including the private Idaho Correctional Center in Boise, that can’t be broken will cost more in the next year.
“I frankly don’t know of an agency that faces as difficult a decision as you face,” said Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert. “I’m certain you have felt many sleepless hours trying to keep the state safe.”
Reinke said his department is struggling with reductions in the current $168 million budget, which includes state and federal dollars. “Cuts that we are going to be taking are actually going to be coming out of our staff,” he said. There have been 80,000 unpaid furlough hours by correction staff since July. “All of our staff are taking furloughs,” Reinke said. “But the breaking point comes sooner when you can’t close your (prison) doors for a day … there’s going to be more furloughs, we just don’t know how many.”
State prisons have gone through some cost containment measures. Reinke said efforts including relying more on probation, parole, and some “problem solving” courts rather than incarceration have saved $21 million in the current budget, and kept 1,000 inmates out of the state’s prison population. The state also no longer houses Idaho prisoners out-of-state, though some are in county jails due to a lack of beds. Other alternatives to prison, like the CAPP and a proposed 270-day Therapeutic Community Rider, could further trim the prison population and costs to the state. The department also just finished bidding from contractors for its medical services for inmates, and is looking for efficiencies in its food service programs.
Cameron said Reinke should look at privatizing those food services. “I’m an advocate for saving money,” he said. “If a private company comes in and says they can provide the same services for a lot less money, I think we ought to consider it.”
Reinke also asked lawmakers for more flexibility by giving him a lump sum of money for the general fund for prison spending in the next budget. Usually, lawmakers set spending appropriations for specific line items in the budget. “It would help us manage additional cuts,” Reinke said, “because then we could move funds into certain areas and move them back. It’s the kind of flexibility that they’ve never been willing to give us, and it’s flexibility that we would like to have … We’re not playing smoke and mirrors here. We’re trying to do the best job we can with what we have, and we want to have everything on the table.”
“We don’t like to give lump-sum authority,” Cameron said. “With the kind of situation we’re in, we have to consider everything.”