The state Department of Correction confirmed Monday that a contract was finalized last week with one of the nation's largest private prison companies to house up to 800 inmates at a Colorado lockup, with the goal of preventing overcrowding at home. Idaho's already full prisons hold about 8,100 inmates, with about 900 being housed in county jails.
Prison officials last sent inmates out-of-state in December 2005, but problems in Texas, as well as slowing inmate numbers in Idaho, prompted their return. The Department of Correction has since implemented additional procedures to better watch inmates being housed outside Idaho, state prisons chief Brent Reinke said.
"I think we have our monitoring process down much tighter than we did before," Reinke said.
The last time Idaho sent inmates out-of-state, citing a lack of prison beds, they were all returned home by January 2009. The state now finds itself with a similar predicament, with an estimated 900 inmates being housed in county jails due to the lack of prison space.
Reinke's department indicated earlier this year that officials may have to again start sending inmates out-of-state at the end of 2012, but the prison growth rate has accelerated faster than officials expected. Last month, officials said Idaho's prison population had grown by more than 500 inmates since July 2011.
In comparison, about 220 inmates were added to the state's prisons during the previous five years.
Under the contract finalized last Wednesday, Idaho is expected to pay Corrections Corporation of America more than $4.8 million in the current fiscal year to house inmates at the Kit Carson Correctional Center in Burlington, Colo.
The move was a last resort, Reinke said.
"It's not an easy thing for the inmate population, it's difficult for the department from a monitoring standpoint, and these are dollars that we don't have that we're having to spend," he said. "So, it's difficult from a budgetary standpoint as well."
Idaho already has a business relationship with CCA. The Tennessee-based company operates Idaho's biggest prison, The Idaho State Correctional Institution located outside of Boise. The company has come under fire from lawmakers and others in recent years for the high rate of inmate-on-inmate violence at the facility and whether it adequately provides for the medical needs of inmates.
Prison officials declined to speculate on how much the two-year contract, which has the option of an additional four years, will be worth in later years, saying that depends on how many inmates are being housed at the Colorado facility.
The state Department of Correction plans to send an initial 250 inmates to the out-of-state facility in August. That number is expected to reach 450 a year from now if Idaho's prison population continues to grow at its current rate.