Idaho Looks to Negotiate New Contract With Out-Of-State Prison Vendor 

click to enlarge KIN MAN HUI/SAN ANTONIO EXPRESS NEWS
  • Kin Man Hui/San Antonio Express News
With nearly 700 inmates currently housed near the Texas/Mexico border by a private contractor, the Idaho Department of Correction is preparing to negotiate what would be a new contract with a private prison corporation.

"Our current agreement is actually an emergency contract that expires in October 2020," IDOC Division of Management Services Chief Pat Donaldson told the IDOC Board of Correction commissioners March 28. "Under the current contract, we're currently paying [The GEO Group] $69.95 per inmate per day."

Boise Weekly and Idaho Press have chronicled how The GEO Group, one of the largest private prison corporations in the world, struck a deal with the State of Idaho to house inmates out of state, due to IDOC's overcrowded prison systems. But in a series of reports, BW /Idaho Press also uncovered a string of concerns at the GEO-owned Eagle Pass Correctional Facility in Texas, where the majority of Idaho's out-of-state inmates remain. Those included leaking roofs, inadequate visitation facilities, a long list of health concerns and, in early January, the death of an Idaho inmate. Following the Jan. 6 death of inmate Kim Taylor, a post-mortem investigation into the incident concluded that "medical response is where the problem lies," and that "there appears to be a deficit in critical thinking skills" in that area at the Eagle Pass facility.

BW /Idaho Press also reported that in the existing agreement, The GEO Group had been selecting those deemed "low maintenance" Idaho inmates. A number those offenders, who had also been productive employees via the Idaho Correctional Industries program when they were housed in Idaho, lost opportunities when they were transferred to Texas.

"It was a bit of a slap in the face to go from doing something meaningful to this nonsense," one inmate who had been transferred to the GEO facility told BW/Idaho Press. "There were guys working in the dog-training program in the Idaho facility, guys building furniture at the Idaho facility and now, they're here doing next to nothing."

Indeed, that's one of the issues that IDOC officials say they want to revisit in a new contract.

"The existing emergency contract allowed the provider [GEO] to have say in who we could send them," said Donaldson.

IDOC Director Josh Tewalt was more direct:

click to enlarge Idaho inmates are currently sent to the Eagle Pass Correctional Facility in Texas. - KIN MAN HUI/SAN ANTONIO EXPRESS NEWS
  • Kin Man Hui/San Antonio Express News
  • Idaho inmates are currently sent to the Eagle Pass Correctional Facility in Texas.
"Nobody here wants to send people out of state," he told the Board of Correction. "It's the best of our worst alternatives. So, we need to do as little harm as we can in selecting these folks that we send out of state."

Donaldson said IDOC was about "95 percent done" drafting an RFP to send out to possible private prison vendors. The RFP is expected to be completed by the end of spring, and officials said they hope to publish it by late summer.

"But there aren't a lot of vendors out there," said Donaldson.

In fact, the two largest private prison corporations in the U.S. are The GEO Group and CoreCivic. Idahoans might better recognize CoreCivic by its previous name: Corrections Corporation of America, the private prison firm which once operated the Idaho Correctional Center under a $29 million annual contract. Idaho slinked away from that arrangement following a string of problems including violence and chronic understaffing.
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