Thursday, March 27, 2008

Otter, the AP, and Prisons

Not entirely surprising given the Senate's action to override Otter's veto yesterday. The following comes to you via the AP:

ID lawmakers get late-session sticker shock, nix $190M prison
Associated Press Writer

BOISE, Idaho (AP) _ State lawmakers have told Department of Correction leaders it's too late in the session for them to even consider a proposal for a new 1,500-bed prison that would cost the state more than $190 million.

Brent Reinke, the head of the state prison agency, had been meeting with House and Senate leaders since last week but says the plan is now finished, at least for this year. He had a bill drafted, but it never got a hearing.

Lawmakers told him selling 30-year bonds to finance a new prison south of Boise was too expensive an item to consider quickly in the waning days of the session. Now, Reinke says he'll refine his proposal over the summer and may present a new plan to the 2009 Legislature, as part of his solution to house a growing Idaho prison population.

"Neither the House nor Senate leadership is interested in hearing this," Reinke told The Associated Press on Wednesday. " Mostly it's sticker shock. They said, 'Let's talk about it next year.' "

The result of delaying the matter another year is more Idaho inmates will stay out of state longer, he said.

His agency is in charge of 7,400 inmates, but lacks sufficient capacity to house them all. As a result, 500 have been shipped to private prisons in Texas and Oklahoma, with another 240 more expected to leave Idaho by July.

One reason the prison discussion was delayed was that Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter originally insisted a new facility be accompanied by legislation allowing it to be a privately built, privately owned and privately operated prison. Companies such as The GEO Group Inc. and Corrections Corp. of America had lobbied legislators furiously for just such a plan, spending more than $40,000 on campaign contributions.

But lawmakers balked, saying such an arrangement would give up too much control over an important state institution. Finally, Otter agreed a new facility would be owned by the state but run by a private company, mirroring the Idaho Correctional Center south of Boise that's operated by Corrections Corp. of America.

Rep. Margaret Henbest, D-Boise, said lawmakers decided Otter had come to them with the prison proposal too late for it to receive full consideration."It's a big decision," Henbest said. "It's not one of those last-minute decisions."Another obstacle to the new prison is the Legislature's newfound interest in substance abuse treatment programs, rather than building new prisons.

Otter and lawmakers are engaged in a veto fight over $16.8 million in drug treatment funding. The Senate overrode Otter's veto Wednesday, but the House is still considering accepting a compromise.

Idaho lawmakers already have approved 1,288 new prison beds during the 2008 session, split among a secure mental health facility, new drug treatment prisons and a 324-bed expansion at the Idaho Correctional Center. With the proposed new 1,500-bed prison, the new facilities together would cost about $106 million annually to operate."

I don't know where $106 million a year is going to come from," said Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome and co-chairwoman of the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee. "It seems to me the most effective solution is to try and keep those folks in treatment."

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press.


Wordsmith said...

This is turning into a ping-pong match.

Go read the story I ran across today and the war on drugs, treatment vs incarceration, etc.

I've been too busy to read much. I want to read this all and give some kind of reasonable response.

Wordsmith said...

Okay, Tara - I've read it all. I'm not getting it. Do these folks NOT understand the dichotomy, specifically Darrington?

And what's up with Otter wanting a private prison? What is that? His libertarian bent?