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January 31, 2007 - Associated Press (US)

Idaho Prison Chief Faces 'Serious Challenges'

Reinke Requests Budget Increase To Fund Growing Inmate Population

By John Miller, Associated Press

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

BOISE ­ Idaho's third prison chief in the last six months says his biggest challenge is the same one that bedeviled his predecessors: making space for an inmate population that in five years will likely exceed the state Department of Correction's beds by 2,700 bodies.

Already, Idaho has sent 450 of its 7,000 inmates to facilities in Texas and Minnesota.

Sending them out of state is expensive: They cost about $43 per day to house here, but the figure to ship them elsewhere could rise to around $65 a day this year because of competition for prison beds from the federal government and California.

"We're going to have some serious challenges," Brent Reinke told budget writers on the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee as he presented his request Tuesday for money in the year starting July 1.

Reinke asked Idaho lawmakers to boost his funding by 10 percent to nearly $180 million in fiscal year 2008, mirroring Gov. Butch Otter's request for the agency.

By 2012, the state's inmate population is estimated to rise to 9,800 inmates, largely from convictions on drug offenses such as methamphetamine abuse that accounted for more than a third of Idaho inmates last year. If no additional large prisons are built in the state by then, the state will likely have only about 7,100 beds, Reinke said.

A series of delays has pushed back construction to at least November of a privately run, 400-bed drug prison near Boise that is expected to cost about $22 million. It was approved by the 2006 Legislature.

There's also a 300-bed expansion in the works at the privately run Idaho Correctional Center south of Boise.

And in his State of the State speech earlier this month, Otter backed $1.8 million for cheap "sprung structures" ­ material stretched over aluminum frames ­ to inexpensively house low-risk offenders.

Even so, these new facilities won't keep pace with demand.

In all, Idaho now has about 20,000 inmates and parolees.

"We are involved in the lives of one out of every 36 adult males" in Idaho, he said.

On Idaho's prison wish-list: three facilities totaling 2,300 beds for men, including a secure facility for the mentally ill and another facility for up to 400 women. The cost is a staggering $365 million combined, and none is in the Correction Department's budget request.

"We have an insatiable appetite for state general funds," Reinke told budget writers. "We will always have more needs."

Former Department of Correction Director Tom Beauclair quit in July after running afoul of then-Gov. Jim Risch. Beauclair's miscue: He made an emergency request for money to send 100 additional prisoners across state lines.

Former Ada County Sheriff Vaughn Killeen, Risch's hand-picked successor, lasted less than six months before incoming Gov. Otter replaced him with Reinke, the Department of Juvenile Corrections head since 1997.

Robin Sandy, chairwoman of the Idaho Board of Correction, told budget writers that leadership changes at the Department of Correction have forced officials to re-examine operations and figure out the best way to address growing inmate numbers.

Fast facts

  • Idaho now has about 20,000 inmates and parolees.
  • Idaho has sent 450 of its 7,000 inmates to out-of-state facilities
  • Though not in the Correction Department's budget request, Idaho prisons are seeking three facilities totaling 2,300 beds for men, including a secure facility for the mentally ill, and another facility for up to 400 women.

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