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Idaho prisons director seeks 7 percent budget boost

Idaho’s top prison official wants about a 7 percent budget increase, with much of the money going to fund beds and services for the state’s growing prison population and to revamp the state’s computer system for tracking inmates.

If approved, the Department of Correction’s budget would reach $264.4 million for the fiscal year beginning in July. That’s up from $247 million.

Idaho Department of Correction Director Henry Atencio told members of the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee on Feb. 7 that the state’s prison population is expected to reach about 8,500 inmates by this summer, up from about 8,000 in January 2017.

The July estimate includes expectations that roughly 700 prison inmates will be housed in county jails, and another 190 or so will be sent to out-of-state prison. Though the state is still waiting to get bids back from the out-of-state private prison companies with room for Idaho’s inmates, the cost for all the supplemental housing is expected to reach more than $5 million.

The Department of Correction began using its current computer inmate management systems more than a decade ago. Some of the software was acquired from another agency, Atencio said. Another management system is 20 years old, he said.

Today, Atencio said, there are no staffers trained in the Corrections Integrated Systems programming language, making a quick fix impossible if the system should go down.

“So when that system fails, we are dead in the water,” Atencio said. “We just don’t know when that is going to go down, and that’s the urgency of our request today.”

The department proposed spending $15 million over three years to replace the system, but Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter has asked lawmakers to instead fund the entire replacement system in a supplemental appropriation for the current budget year.

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