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Prisons seeing shrinking budget but rising population

Prisons seeing shrinking budget but rising population

Idaho Freedom Foundation staff
March 5, 2010
Idaho Freedom Foundation staff
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March 5, 2010

Idaho prisons are at full capacity and facing a $2.8 million reduction in state funding in the next budget year. The Idaho Department of Correction (IDOC) is the third-biggest spending piece of the budget pie, eating up about 9 percent of the general fund budget, close to $150 million. IDOC would also receive more than $20 million in federal and dedicated funds. Most of the reductions will come to state prisons, but not all reductions are open for discussion.

“At this time, a release in inmates is not an option,” said Rep. Darrell Bolz, R-Caldwell. He worked on the IDOC budget that the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee approved Wednesday. IDOC Director Brent Reinke had said that releasing 250 inmates immediately could save the state $5 million. Idaho currently has 7,422 inmates in state and private prisons. Current projections show that rising to almost 7,700 by May 2011.

“The fact that we’re at capacity now makes it really difficult,” Reinke said about the proposed budget.

About half of the corrections budget is going to contracts with private companies that the state can't reduce during difficult economic times. “That makes 44 percent of the total budget, and they’re basically fixed,” said Sen. Bert Brackett, R-Rogerson. “That means any holdbacks have to come out of the remaining budget.”

Contracts with the private Idaho Correctional Center in Boise will see a 3 percent increase in the next budget year. Reinke said that contract can’t change, but that private facilities are cheaper that state prisons. “Their contract rates are so low,” he said. It costs the state $40 per day for an inmate in a private prison, and $57 per day in a state prison. Reinke said IDOC is currently bidding out a new contract for inmates’ medical services, which should save the state money.

Another area of savings will be delaying the opening of new private Correctional Alternative Placement Program (CAPP) facility in Boise. The 400-bed facility specializing in 90-day substance abuse treatment is billed as a cheaper alternative to housing inmates. It was initially scheduled to open in May, then delayed six weeks until mid-June. On Friday, JFAC moved to push that opening back to September. “There’s not a year’s worth of funding,” Reinke said. “I don’t know if we can make it by September.”

Sen. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise, spoke against pushing back the opening of CAPP. She said a lack of treatment options is a big obstacle to releasing inmates on parole on time. “The delay of this, I do worry, will only further that problem, and make it less likely that we will release inmates on time,” she said. “A lack of investment in this area will probably cost us more in the long run.” A report from the Legislature’s Office of Performance Evaluations released Feb. 25 said there are some slowdowns in Idaho’s parole process.

“A delay in education and treatment for inmates can be a delaying factor in parole,” said Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow.

State prisons would see a $6 million reduction, community corrections a $1.3 million reduction, and the Idaho Commission of Pardons and Parole a $135,000 reduction in the next budget set by JFAC, which starts July 1. Those would be on top of the holdbacks prisons are seeing in the current budget. Private prisons would increase $485,000, costs for placing inmates in county prisons and prisons in Texas and Oklahoma would rise $2.7 million. With the delays, costs for running CAPP would still increase $2.8 million. Bolz said even with the reductions, it’s likely that lawmakers will need to come back next year and find $2 million to $5 million in additional revenues for prisons. He called the budget set by JFAC a “target budget,” that would see some changes in the 2011 legislative session.

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