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Idaho to Private Prison Operators: We Can Do Better

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By Olivia Sandbothe Public Safety Privatization
Idaho to Private Prison Operators: We Can Do Better

Idaho Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter has built his political career as a “small-government” Republican who advocates outsourcing state jobs.  But even he could tell that the private sector just wasn’t up to the task when it came to Idaho’s correctional facilities.

That’s why last week the state decided it would take back control of the facility once a CCA contract expires in June. 

For more than a decade, the state of Idaho has been paying $29 million per year to the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) to manage the Idaho Correctional Center in Ada County.  The plan was intended to cut costs, but those savings haven’t materialized

Instead, the prison has been plagued by abuse and scandal.  According to an AP report, the ICC, which is the state’s only privately-run prison, suffers more inmate-on-inmate violence than all of the other correctional facilities in Idaho combined.  A lawsuit against it alleges that CCA "fosters and develops criminal gangs" in order to control the inmate population.  And last spring, CCA admitted that it has been falsifying its records to cover up understaffing in the facility.

 “Reviewing our own experience and those of prison facilities throughout the country makes it increasingly clear that state control of custodial functions within the Idaho Department of Correction … is a better way to ensure best practices, public safety and the public confidence we all work to achieve,” Otter said in an official statement about the decision.

Idaho isn’t the only state that’s been burned by the private prison industry.  CCA operates more than 60 prisons in 19 states and the District of Columbia.  Many of these states have found that private prisons actually cost taxpayers more than state-run facilities.  Instead, these institutions cut corners on staffing and inmate care, all while paying their executives million-dollar salaries.

“We see in case after case that when private interests take over our correctional facilities, conditions deteriorate,” says Glen Middleton, chair of the AFSCME Corrections Advisory Committee and an AFSCME International vice president. “Idaho is taking a step in the right direction, and other states should take note.  We need to put safety ahead of profits.”