Idaho’s legislative budget writers on Thursday approved about $3 million for treating inmates with severe liver disease, as well as half a million dollars to add 99 beds to the state’s prison system as inmate populations continue to rise amid rapid state growth.
The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee voted 19-0 on both supplemental budget requests from the Idaho State Department of Correction.
Roughly 30 percent — or more than 2,500 — Idaho prisoners are infected with hepatitis C, according to the department. Some fairly new medications can cure the condition, but they are very expensive, costing as much as $62,000 per inmate.
Idaho Department of Correction Director Henry Atencio told the committee the state requires its prison medical care contractor, Corizon, to abide with federal Bureau of Prisons standards for treating hepatitis. Those standards now call for using the hepatitis C drugs.
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Atencio said his department began providing the medications to the sickest inmates with hepatitis C last year, treating about 58 inmates – tallying up the nearly $3 million in costs. The treatment has been successful for all of them, the department said.
“This is a lot of money that none of us would like to spend,” said Sen. Jeff Agenbroad, a Republican from Nampa, “… but unfortunately it’s a necessary expense.”
Lawmakers also approved the addition of 99 inmate beds to the St. Anthony Work Camp, Pocatello Women’s Correctional Center and various community work centers. That effort has tallied up about $483,000 in costs during the current fiscal year — hence the supplemental request approved by the committee on Thursday — and will likely mean another $2.3 million in costs during the next fiscal year.
Other inmate housing costs are also expected to hit the department in this year. The prisons department anticipates moving as many as 1,000 inmates to private out-of-state facilities sometime this year to reduce overcrowding at home. The request for that funding, however, will go before the budget writing committee later in the legislative session.
Hundreds of state inmates are already being housed in local jails because of overcrowding, and Idaho prison officials say the prisoner population is expected to increase from about 8,200 by the end of June to nearly 8,600 at the end of June 2019.