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New prison, opening amid budget concerns, could save money in the long run

New prison, opening amid budget concerns, could save money in the long run

Idaho Freedom Foundation staff
June 2, 2010

Idaho is weeks away from opening a new correctional facility that state leaders say should reduce costs and the number of people in prisons over several years, but it’s unclear how the program will be funded in its first year.

The new prison’s opening has been pushed back several times, though it’s now on track to begin housing inmates in July.  Part of the reason for delays were concerns over finding enough money to pay for the program.  The financial situation is still murky.  Idaho lawmakers approved close to $4 million for the Correctional Alternative Program (CAPP) in the next budget, which begins in July, though the Idaho Department of Corrections (IDOC) originally requested $8.5 million to run CAPP.  However, IDOC has lump sum authority to decide how to spend all $166 million that lawmakers approved for the department, which could help keep CAPP open.  “We can move funds up and down in our agency,” said Brent Reinke, IDOC director.

CAPP is a 432-bed facility located south of Boise, near several other prisons.  When it’s up and running, 25 inmates will come to CAPP each week for a 90-day treatment program for drug abuse and cognitive issues.  CAPP differs from other Idaho prisons because the inmates will have eight hours of classroom programming every day to sort out their issues and meet other requirements imposed by a judge or parole board.

A ribbon-cutting for the $50-million CAPP is scheduled for June 27.  Inmates who will work at the facility are set to move in July 6, according to Reinke, and 25 new inmates should join CAPP starting in the third week of July.

Understanding the CAPP model

“Nowhere else in the Idaho prison system do you sit in classrooms eight hours a day,” said CAPP’s warden, Brian Finn.  He works for the private prisons company Management & Training Corporation (MTC), which built and operates the facility under a contract with the Idaho Department of Correction (IDOC).  Finn said six hours of the class time is IDOC’s standard programming, while two hours is developed by MTC.  CAPP will also have a separate track of programming for inmates who are addicted to methamphetamine.

Reinke said CAPP should help inmates and the state’s budget for prisons.  “It’s going to help keep our inmate population down,” he said.  A three-month, program-intensive sentence at CAPP would be less than a typical drug offense or parole violation, which comes with an average 27-month sentence.  IDOC would welcome a reduction in its offender population — state prisons are at 99 percent capacity, with several dozen offenders currently in overflow at county jails and the prospect of sending inmates to prisons in other states, which is costly and can disrupt inmates’ rehabilitation.

“We’re maxed out,” IDOC spokesman Jeff Ray told IdahoReporter.com.  “We’re running out of beds.”

The new prison’s opening has been pushed back several times, though it’s now on track to begin housing inmates in July.  Part of the reason for delays were concerns over finding enough money to pay for the program.  The financial situation is still murky.  Idaho lawmakers approved close to $4 million for CAPP in the next budget, which begins in July, though IDOC originally requested $8.5 million to run CAPP.  However, IDOC has lump sum authority to decide how to spend all $166 million that lawmakers approved for the department, which could help keep CAPP open.  “We can move funds up and down in our agency,” Reinke said.

Over several years, the department projects the shorter-sentence, therapy-focused CAPP will save millions by reducing the inmate population and lowering the recidivism rate, meaning offenders won’t commit crimes after they are released.  “The challenge that we have in Idaho is that two-thirds of our prison growth happens at the backdoor, people that initially come to prison and then come back and do life on the installment plan,” Reinke said.  IDOC estimates that in three years’ time, it could save $8 million a year by lowering the prison population thanks to CAPP and a similar treatment program, a nine-month therapeutic community rider program.

Opening a new correctional facility aimed at treatment during an economic downturn isn’t common.  A May report by Stateline.org said that Kansas and Oklahoma were among states that were reducing treatment programs, while other states, including Oregon, were meeting shrinking budgets by releasing inmates early.  IDOC said the state could save $5 million by immediately releasing 250 prisoners.  The Legislature, which would have to approve that early release, never considered the plan.  IDOC is projecting a 4 percent growth in its prison population in each of the next three years, so that savings would not be permanent.

“In most prisons, when budget cuts come down, the treatment is the first thing to because it’s security, security, security,” Finn said.  “That’s the primary thing.  Here, we’re trying to change lives through substance abuse treatment programs.”

CAPP built to control costs of staffing

The CAPP building is located several miles south of Boise, and is directly south of the Idaho Correctional Center (ICC), the state’s only other privately-run prison.  MTC, not the state, paid to build the facility, and the company will sell it back to the state in 20 years for $1.  The state has a five-year, non-negotiable contract with MTC to run CAPP’s programming and security.  “I would hope that we’re here for 20 years,” Finn said.  “I’d hate to be leasing my house out to somebody else who’s running the house.”

The layout of the new minimum-security facility is designed for more efficient staffing than most state prisons.  IDOC came under fire during an audit by the Legislature’s Office of Performance Evaluations, which found that the layout of many current state prisons is inefficient and requires too many guards to maintain safety.  When the report was released, Sen. Elliot Werk, D-Boise, said Idaho was hemorrhaging money on its prison system because of the inefficiencies and staffing needs.  In a written response, Gov. Butch Otter said he wouldn't consider building new state prisons due to low tax revenues.

Rows of tables at CAPP

Inmate housing at the single-story building is broken up into four pods capable of holding 108 inmates each that include bunk beds, bathrooms, tables for dining, and doors to outdoor recreation space.  Eight classrooms and two computer rooms are steps away from the living areas.  The four-pod layout has a central watch point with security cameras.  Finn said one guard could conceivably watch all 432 inmates from that post.  MTC will employ 82 workers, including 16 substance abuse counselors.

CAPP also has medical facilities as well as 10 individual segregation cells for inmates who misbehave.  “We don’t expect anybody to be back here for any length of time because this program is based on them sitting in class, not segregation,” Finn said.  “If you’re in segregation, you’re not sticking with your program and you probably need to get back in front of a judge.”

One of the segregation cells at CAPP

Of the 432 male inmates at CAPP, 32 won’t be part of the treatment program, and will do custodial or kitchen work and stay for a year.  “They’re inmates, just assigned to janitorial (work) just like they do at all the other prisons,” Finn said.  “If I didn’t have them, I’d have to pull people out of substance abuse class.”  Inmates at other prisons can have personal televisions, so Finn said he’s enticing other inmates to transfer to CAPP by paying them a higher wage than other prisons pay.

The delays in opening CAPP have caused some logistical problems for Finn, but those costs won’t be borne by Idaho taxpayers.  “It’s been tough,” he said.  “I hired staff in January so I’ve got a payroll to make.  If I don’t have an inmate, I don’t have income.”  Once CAPP opens, the state will pay MTC $43 a day per inmate, plus medical expenses, to run the facility.  That rate is lower than the state average of $57 per day per inmate.

Ray said the recent fines stemming from inadequate medical care issued to ICC don’t raise concerns for IDOC about medical treatment for inmates at CAPP, since different private correctional companies run the facilities.  ICC, run by Corrections Corporation of America, is also the subject of lawsuits related to prison abuse and violence.

IDOC hoping to reduce repeat offenders

People who violate the terms of their parole will be the first group to undergo CAPP’s 90-day program.  The state is still working out its system for how judges will sentence new offenders and probation violators to CAPP or other treatment programs.  Both Reinke and Patti Tobias, the administrator of Idaho courts, said the courts are excited by the new option.  “District judges have long advocated for this,” Tobias told IdahoReporter.com.  “They are very excited to have this sentencing alternative.  They believe it will work to reduce recidivism and be more cost-effective.”  Reinke said a plan for discretionary placement of inmates in CAPP should be in place in 2011.

The corrections department believes that, besides the heavy emphasis on education and overcoming substance abuse, CAPP and other sentencing alternatives will help reduce recidivism by separating offenders who are trying to get a handle on their drug addiction from the rest of the prison population.  Reinke said people seeking treatment shouldn’t be exposed to a rougher element.  “The cream never rises to the top in that particular setting,” he said.

Reinke is convinced that CAPP will lower the number of repeat offenders based in part on the results of IDOC’s therapeutic community program currently operating at South Idaho Correctional Institution (SICI).  The 100-bed program, similar to CAPP, for offenders in the last few months of their prison sentence has a lower recidivism rate.  SICI warden Randy Blades said that’s because the inmates form a community and start holding each other accountable for the treatment and educational progress.  “I talk with them before they leave, and they get it,” he said.  “They want to be productive.”  Inmates in SICI’s therapeutic community program have a full slate of programming, and are the first inmates to bed and earliest to rise at SICI.

IDOC will soon have three distinct treatment programs that Reinke likes to call a trio of options.  Besides the 90-day CAPP, there is a 120-day traditional rider retained jurisdiction program for substance abusers and those with education and under-employment issues, and a new 270-day therapeutic community rider for higher risk inmates with more elevated criminal or substance abuse issues.  The 270-day program should be available starting in September.

Reinke said the trio of options will help inmates and the state prison system by getting them released on parole when they are eligible.  “We need to have the right inmate in the right bed at the right time, so that when they come up on their parole date, they’re much more apt to be released,” he said.  “It is definitely a balancing act.”  A separate OPE audit found that the state wasted several million in avoidable delays by not providing inmates will all the programming they needed to be released close to their parole date.

Female offenders, which make up 10 percent of Idaho’s prison population, are only eligible for the 120- and 270-day programs.  Reinke said he has asked lawmakers for funding for a similar CAPP facility near the Pocatello Women’s Correctional Center.  “Generally, it will take two to three years to get that funded,” he said.

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