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Idaho’s state Board of Correction has unanimously endorsed plans for a new 800-bed women’s prison south of Boise, along with other smaller projects that would combine to increase the state’s total prison beds by nearly 1,050. Idaho hasn’t built a new prison since 2000; a much larger $500 million prison expansion plan that the board backed in 2018 turned out to be a political non-starter and never was proposed to lawmakers.

Today’s board vote was the first step in a smaller and more targeted infrastructure plan for the state’s prison system, that focuses on the most-needed type of prison beds: Minimum custody. Those also happen to be the least expensive type to build.

“We want to make sure that we are building prison infrastructure that is conducive to outcomes we want,” said Josh Tewalt, state corrections director.

The plan would cost between $130 million and $170 million; if approved, it would allow prison space south of Boise now being used to house female inmates to be converted back into the department’s highest need, minimum-custody beds for male inmates. All told, the state would end up with 959 additional prison beds for men and 129 additional for women, while better targeting the available space to serve the prison system’s most pressing needs.

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Betsy Z. Russell is the Boise bureau chief and state capitol reporter for the Idaho Press and Adams Publishing Group. Follow her on Twitter at @BetsyZRussell.

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