It turns out private prisons might cost more to operate than government ones in Idaho, according to a report from the Associated Press. The thing is, Idaho hasn't bothered to find out; the state has never conducted a cost comparison study despite elected officials' claims that the industry saves it money. The AP's study attempted to compare costs at public and private prisons, but ran into the common obstacles facing researchers who try to compare costs. Namely, the per diem paid by the state doesn't account for oversight of the industry, CCA has a clause in its contract with the state that bars any prisoners with serious medical issues (thus placing a heavier financial burden on the state), and the private facility is much newer than state prisons (resulting in lower operating costs).
So the Board of Corrections has not yet allocated funds for a comparison, but a new board member says he's willing to do so, and even went so far as to say he was "on the verge of calling [contracting with CCA] a failed experiment." He would seem to be correct in making such a claim - the state's history with privatization is far from pretty. For starters, it failed to ever conduct a cost comparison before privatizing in the late 90s, against the recommendation of a consultant hired to help with the transition. It brought CCA in to run the Idaho Correctional Center, which became the target of a multiple of lawsuits alleging civil rights abuses and an FBI investigation. Conditions became so bad that it was called "gladiator school" by the prisoners housed there, who would routinely suffer severe physical assaults while staff failed to intervene, sometimes even watching the beatings. A class action lawsuit about the violence at ICC was settled out of court late last year, but details on that are unavailable because the judge sealed the settlement.
The time has come for Idaho to evaluate its relationship with CCA and privatization, as its prisons are currently operating at or near capacity and the state will likely need to open a new facility within the next few years to handle the anticipated rise in the population. Particularly because the state legislature just allocated $29.8 million to the private prison fund for this coming year, a 3% increase over the last budget (that again won't take into account the administrative costs of overseeing the prison). This was the only item on the budget that didn't pass unanimously, possibly because it's about a million extra dollars going to CCA; 3 representatives voted against it. Since private prisons have been found to cost as much or more than government ones in basically every study not funded by the industry, and given its track record of failing to properly operate prisons both in Idaho and elsewhere, the state should think long and hard about the 30 million taxpayer dollars it's giving CCA to operate a prison that just a few short years ago had more violent assaults than all other state prisons combined.