BOISE, Idaho — Idaho Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter asked the Idaho Board of Correction earlier this month to take over the operation of the 2,080-bed Idaho Correctional Center (ICC), the state’s largest prison. Gov. Otter is ending a $29 million contract with private contractor Nashville, Tenn.-based Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) after the facility has dealt with multiple lawsuits alleging violence, understaffing and contract fraud.
The CCA contract expires on July 1, and in the meantime, the Idaho Department of Correction (IDOC) will start preparing for the abrupt transition.
In a letter to Robin Sandy, chairman of the Idaho Board of Correction, Gov. Otter wrote, “After thoroughly reviewing all the facts and issues, as well as the heightened level of judicial oversight of operations there, it is apparent to me that our goal of consistently successful day-to-day operation is better served at this time by the State of Idaho taking a more direct management role at ICC.”
CCA was contracted with Idaho to run ICC since it was built in 1997. The prison houses about one-fourth of the state’s 8,000 inmates. In the past, the prison has been the subject of multiple lawsuits — some of which resulted in federal court orders to improve conditions.
An Associated Press investigation released early last year showed that CCA falsified staffing reports given to the state of Idaho by listing guards working shifts that were actually never covered. CCA admitted to the discrepancies last year, and as a result, the IDOC asked the Idaho State Police to investigate contract fraud. CCA officials have acknowledged that about 4,800 hours of guard posts were left unstaffed despite reports showing otherwise and they continue to cooperate with the investigation.
“Reviewing our own experience and those of prison facilities throughout the country makes it increasingly clear that State control of custodial functions within the IDOC at this time — particularly involving the close-custody security level required for ICC inmates — is a better way to ensure best practices, public safety and the public confidence we all work to achieve,” the governor wrote to Sandy.
The governor also asked the board to identify and thoroughly assess other noncustodial Department of Correction functions “that could be better suited to privatized operations” and to prepare a plan for implementing them “within a reasonable and responsible time.”
Private prison contractors have been hired over the past couple decades to run prisons, federal lockups and county-level jails, especially as prison population numbers rise. The number of inmates housed in these facilities grew from 85,500 in 2000 to more than 128,000 in 2012, according to federal statistics. CCA currently operates the fifth largest corrections system in the country, housing nearly 80,000 inmates at more than 60 facilities.