State takeover of private prison begins in Idaho

BOISE, Idaho — The state takeover of a privately managed prison in Boise is now underway.

Idaho corrections staff have been preparing for months to take over the 2,080-bed prison — the state’s largest — since Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter announced earlier this year he would not renew the $29 million-a-year contract with Corrections Corporations of America. That process officially began Tuesday.

Ever since the state entered into a contract with CCA, the prison has been sued and wracked by accusations of violence, gang activity and understaffing. The company operates the fifth-largest corrections system in the country, housing nearly 80,000 inmates at more than 60 facilities.

Warden Randy Blades will oversee the prison, which has a nearly $25 million-a-year operating budget and was given another $2 million during the legislative session to help cover the costs of the transition.

State officials repeatedly have said they expect a seamless transition. The only difference the inmates should notice is the different uniforms worn by the correctional officers. Food service and recreational schedules should also remain the same.

However, the state says it is canceling visitation at the Idaho Correctional Center until Thursday because of the transition.

The takeover marks the end of experimenting with privatizing Idaho’s public prisons despite multiple attempts from Otter to push for more privatization of government.

In 2008, Otter attempted to pass legislation that would allow private companies to build and operate prisons in Idaho and import out-of-state inmates.

Then in 2009, Otter suggested privatizing the 500-bed, state-run Idaho Correctional Institution-Orofino while also requesting to cut the state correctional department’s budget by more than $11 million, or 12 percent.

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