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State budget writers approve prison takeover hires

Legislative budget writers have approved $1.9 million in spending to hire 90 prison guards and workers for Idaho’s takeover of the privately managed Idaho Correctional Center.

The Nashville, Tenn.-based Corrections Corporation of America has operated Idaho’s largest prison since it was built more than a decade ago. But earlier this year, Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter announced he wanted the state to take over the facility, which has been plagued with allegations of mismanagement, rampant violence and chronic understaffing.

The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee approved money for the first step in the takeover – the hiring and training of new state workers – Jan. 20. The committee will be asked later in the Legislative session to approve the new operating budget for the prison, expected to be about $25 million.

Idaho taxpayers currently pay CCA more than $29 million a year to operate the prison south of Boise, and though that contract officially ends on June 30, the transition to state control is already underway. The transition is expected to take months, however, as the Idaho Department of Correction hires and trains workers, replaces CCA-owned equipment and handles other logistics, like food and laundry service for inmates.

The move to end the CCA contract came months after an Associated Press report raised questions about how the company was staffing the prison. In response, the Idaho Department of Correction asked the Idaho State Police to investigate possible contract fraud or other criminal misconduct at the prison.

That investigation is ongoing. CCA has since acknowledged that it had given falsified reports to the state showing that more than 4,800 hours of guard posts were filled when they were actually left unstaffed. CCA officials have said the company would “make taxpayers whole” for any unverified hours.

Some lawmakers on the budget committee questioned whether the move to take over operations of the prison would give Idaho less leverage in dealing with CCA once the police investigation is complete.

“I’m looking for some reassurances about this,” said Sen. Dan Schmidt, D-Moscow. “My concern is moving forward with the transition, that we don’t lose any leverage as a state should there be any ongoing concerns with the contract.”

Idaho Department of Correction Director Brent Reinke said he didn’t believe the transition would have any impact on the state police investigation.

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