Butch Otter on Idaho's prison challenges

Where the candidates stand

April 6, 2014 

Butch Otter

Starting July 1, for the first time since it opened in 2000, the Idaho Correctional Center (ICC) south of Boise will be operated by the Idaho Department of Correction. The entire staff overseeing the more than 2,000 inmates being held at the close-custody ICC will be working for the state of Idaho.

Corrections Corp. of America, the Nashville, Tenn.-based company that has managed the prison from its beginning, is on its way out of Idaho. Putting the right people and processes in place to change the culture and overcome the troubled history at the ICC is the top priority for me and the Department of Correction. The stakes are high as we prepare to assume day-to-day management of almost one-quarter of our total inmate population.

It must be done right. And the Department of Correction team is working hard to ensure it is. We all know this is about more than overcoming problems with a contractor - it's a measure of our adaptability, our professionalism and our commitment to improving public safety and public confidence.

It's no secret that my default view of the world generally favors the market over government actions and private over public management. But facts on the ground can't be ignored, and it's those facts that changed my perspective about the ICC's management needs. Falsified staffing records came on top of violent incidents and violations of court orders, which together convinced me that the Department of Correction should assume direct authority for addressing those challenges at Idaho's largest prison.

Idaho taxpayers have been fairly reimbursed for CCA's management failures at the ICC, and the Department of Correction is working closely with the company to ensure a smooth transition. State and federal authorities also are looking into the possible legal ramifications of CCA's operations at the ICC. But my primary concern is ensuring that problems at the prison itself are behind us, and that the safety of inmates, staff and the public is assured.

Assuming management at the ICC also is part of a bigger endeavor - adopting a proven new way of addressing challenges in our criminal justice system. The Legislature unanimously approved landmark Justice Reinvestment legislation this year, putting a much greater emphasis on prioritizing, intensifying and improving supervision of parolees and probationers. These watershed changes in how we prepare and oversee offenders as they re-enter our communities should save a lot of taxpayer money by heading off problems earlier and putting fewer people back behind bars.

I consulted with legislative leadership in making my ICC decision, as well as Senate Judiciary Chairman Patti Anne Lodge and House Judiciary Chairman Rich Wills. The three of us also worked with the courts, county prosecutors and state agencies - including the Department of Correction and the Commission of Pardons and Parole - in achieving the Justice Reinvestment reforms. With sustained support for these critical changes over the next five years, our goal is to reduce the growth in our inmate population enough to avoid the need to build another prison.

Both implementing Justice Reinvestment and the ICC transition will require significant resources and manpower. But as I told the Board of Correction in calling for the ICC shift, I believe the Department of Correction has noncustodial functions that could be better suited to private operations. And I will keep working with the board to ensure those opportunities are carefully assessed and conscientiously pursued while keeping our focus on security, public safety, and reducing the overall cost to taxpayers of incarceration in Idaho.

Otter, in his second term as governor, lives in Star.

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