Idaho’s Private Prison Management – A Failed Experiment

By working together District 17 legislators can be more effective and I am delighted that Elliot, Sue and I have been collaborating this year on outsourcing legislation, minimum wage, and my legislation relating to the failed private prison management experiment.  We work together on other issues too, and keep each other informed about the work taking place in the many legislative committees.  With Team 17’s support I authored legislation in September that requires our boards and agencies to consider whether the public sector should replace the private prison contractor duties.

Within the last few days Governor Otter decided to turn management of the state owned prison over to the Department of Corrections.

The privately managed prison saw gladiator fights, understaffing, serious billing issues, resulting in the current contractor declining to bid on the expiring contract.   It became clear that private contractor management is a challenge because it cannot make a profit and compete with the wages the State of Idaho already pays.  Correction Officers start at $13.12 an hour and the average is about $14.50 leading to a 24% annual turnover of corrections officers.  How can a private company compete with these low salaries and competently manage the prison?  And, there are other good reasons why private prison management is not a good idea.  Discipline and prison policy violations should be handled by an  accountable public agency.

Our proposal to require consideration of corrections department capabilities has gotten significant attention.  The failure of the private prison management experiment, and the reluctance of another competitor to bid has resulted in the decision to abandon the policy.  We will consider whether there is still a need to go forward with our proposal.

To read more about prison management in Idaho, check out these great articles!

Lawmaker wants Idaho to bid on private prison

Only a law will protect Idaho’s taxpayers

Idaho is Looking For A New Prison Operator

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