Tewalt JFAC far from side

The County & Out of State Placement portion of the state prisons budget shows a whopping 55.7% increase in Gov. Brad Little’s proposed budget for next year, from $27.5 million this year to $42.8 million next year. It’s all in “population-driven costs” – additional beds. Sen. C. Scott Grow, R-Eagle, questioned whether it might be more cost-effective over time to just build a new prison, even if it would cost $500 million.

State Corrections Director Josh Tewalt said IDOC is looking at short, medium and long-term needs. “The current trajectory is untenable,” he said. That’s why the department’s looking to add beds, including 46 beds that will come online when an existing building is remodeled at the state prison complex south of Boise; 160 beds that will be added when a community re-entry center in Twin Falls opens in October, “and we also have our emergency valve, which is the out-of-state contract,” Tewalt said. About 500 more out-of-state beds would be added, doubling the current number.

The $42 million, he said, is “not a cost we can avoid for fiscal year 2021.” But in the longer term, he said, the hope is that out-of-state beds would no longer be needed. “I’m pretty candid about the fact that out-of-state placement is not something that we prefer, it’s simply the best of our worst alternatives,” Tewalt said.

“Later this month, the board is going to take action on a contract,” Tewalt told JFAC. “There is a budgetary impact to it, but I think it’s important to stress the importance of having an out-of-state contract and having that contract done right.”

“We’ve learned some lessons from the past,” Tewalt said.

That includes the need to provide for “more robust medical services” for inmates placed out of state; opportunities for treatment and recidivsm prevention; and opportunities for “meaningful employment” for those inmates. Under the current contract, under with more than 650 Idaho inmates are being housed at a private prison in Texas, just 10% have a chance at employment, Tewalt said. “In the new contract, 70% of the people placed there are going to have the ability to participate in jobs.”

“So what does that mean? It means that it’s going to be a little more expensive,” Tewalt told lawmakers. “But it also means that we have higher expectations for the custody of the people that we place out of state.”

He said the department also has decided that instead of first shifting the inmates now in Texas to the new contract, it’ll first shift state inmates currently being housed in county jails, to provide relief for hard-pressed counties that have been increasingly concerned about the burden of housing state inmates.

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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