Corrections company makes pitch for private jail the county would lease - Coeur d'Alene Press: Local News

Corrections company makes pitch for private jail the county would lease

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Posted: Thursday, September 13, 2012 12:00 am

COEUR d'ALENE - The Kootenai County commissioners were cautiously optimistic on Wednesday after hearing a jail planning company's proposal to build a new, privately-funded jail.

"If we could save money and lower costs with the way we're doing things, who wouldn't do that?" said Commissioner Todd Tondee, after Rocky Mountain Corrections gave a presentation to the commissioners and other officials at the county jail.

Following up on informal meetings with county officials, RMC President Walt Femling explained to the commissioners how a new jail could be funded by private investors found by RMC.

The facility would then be leased and operated by the county.

"This is all coming under a lease and not raising taxes on your constituents," Femling said.

The chief question now, he added, "is does this work for the county?"

The problem

Even after the Kootenai County Jail was expanded to 325 beds in 2002, the facility was overcrowded again in three years, said Sheriff Rocky Watson before RMC's presentation.

"We built to a number, not a need," Watson said.

The county has paid to house excess inmates in outside jails since 2006.

So far, 3,000 county inmates have been held in other facilities in Idaho, Washington and Montana, Watson said, costing $2.4 million.

The jail currently has an average inmate population of 360, with about 50 housed at a time in other facilities.

Voters shot down funding proposals for a jail expansion in 2008 and 2009.

"Over the last 10 years, the jail inmate population has grown 6.5 percent per year," Watson said.

The proposal

RMC presented two possible options for a new county jail.

One proposes a 408-bed facility, to meet the current need. The other offers 625 beds, providing both room to grow and extra beds to rent to other jurisdictions.

"You don't want those beds empty under your lease," Femling said, adding that the federal government could rent beds at $80 a day.

The county would lease the new building on an annual basis, at just over $20 per bed, per day.

That's $3.1 million a year for the 408-bed option, and $4.6 million for the 625-bed option.

A new facility is more cost effective than building on to the existing jail, Femling said. The current jail's design and technology are aged, he noted, and pose staffing and security issues.

One example: the jail's 70 percent felon population can't be housed in the dormitory beds.

"You can't put certain felons together. It's not safe for staff, and they end up killing each other," said Femling, former Blaine County sheriff. "If you add on to the facility, you continue these inefficiencies."

A privately-built facility would also be subject to property taxes to benefit the local municipality, he said, unlike a county-built structure.

And the new jail could offer new technology to increase revenue, he said. Charging for Internet visitation could bring in hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, RMC projects.

"That right there could pay for your central control staff," he said.

RMC projects the 408-bed facility could bring in $9.4 million in net revenue the first year, from bed rentals and other service revenues.

The firm estimates the county's net cash flow at $122,799.

The 625-bed facility is projected to bring in $8.5 million in net revenue. The county's net cash flow is estimated at over $1 million.

Kootenai County is now spending $9.5 million a year operating the jail, pointed out James Anderson with Municipal Capital Markets Group Inc., who was part of Femling's presentation.

"Could you spend that in a better way?" Anderson said.

Both proposals are still preliminary, Femling emphasized.

The cost and design of the new jail, where it would be built, and which agencies might rent beds, are unknown.

RMC would invest in digging up those details, Anderson said, if the commissioners sign a letter of intent committing to the firm's pursuit of the project.

"We want to get some kind of affirmative action from the county," Anderson said.

Idea 'has merit'

There are too many unknowns and "pie in the sky" numbers at this point, said Commissioner Dan Green.

"Everything is a variable," Green said to Femling, noting that he was reluctant to sign the letter of intent. "Do some due diligence, and come back with harder numbers."

Green still praised the concept.

"Do I think it has merit? Absolutely," he said, adding that he's certain another ballot initiative would fail.

Tondee said a lease agreement could be "an easy sell to the public" if it saves money.

But he was skeptical of the potential success in renting out beds, as many Washington jails have excess space and are offering low rates.

"That's the huge number for those revenue numbers, is (renting out) the beds," he pointed out of RMC's projections.

The commissioners will want to consult with their legal department, the Sheriff's Department and other agencies, said Commissioner Jai Nelson.

"It looks like a good proposal. I think we need to continue to look at it," she said.

Sheriff Watson said his department has long studied the idea and wants to move forward.

"We've been dealing with this for 10 years," Watson said of the overcrowding. "It's been re-examined and restudied, all the options, and here's the way that'll get it done and save the voters money."

Spokane officials wary of revenue estimates

The county public defender's office favors "any measure that brings inmates closer to home," said Lynn Nelson, chief public defender.

The office, which defends about 80 percent of inmates, struggles to consult with inmates housed out of the area, he said. There are also difficulties scheduling court appearances, he said.

"It's affecting the quality of our representation," Nelson said.

Asked if the Spokane Sheriff's Department would rent beds at Kootenai County, Capt. John McGrath said his department already has offers from many Washington jails "at bottom basement prices."

"We think we have an agreement, but nothing's been signed yet," he said.

Lt. Aaron Anderton, also with the Spokane County department, warned against expecting revenue from bed rentals.

"It's a good idea for extras now, but never count on it," Anderton said.

Gooding County Commissioner Terrell Williams said pursuing a privately-funded jail with RMC has been a 2-year ordeal for her county.

While her county throws money at housing inmates in two old facilities, she said, numerous meetings have turned up no investors for a new jail.

Potentials all back out, Williams said, because the return isn't fast enough.

"We've gotten nowhere so far," she said. "If we could get it, it would be nice. But at this point, it's just been two years of negotiations, and we haven't really decided anything."

Proposal details:

The Rocky Mountain Corrections company presented two possible options to the Kootenai County commissioners on Wednesday.

n A 408-bed facility, which would cost $3.1 million per year to lease. It also could produce as much as $9.4 million in net revenue in the first year, from bed rentals and other service revenues.

n A 625-bed facility, which would cost $4.6 million per year to lease. It could produce $8.5 million in net revenue.

The county currently spends $9.5 million annually to operate its 325-bed jail, with additional costs for the estimated average of 50 inmates housed each day in other facilities.

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  • bluebandit834 posted at 8:57 am on Sat, Sep 15, 2012.

    bluebandit834 Posts: 11

    Sorry..... 150% at the very most and 8 times as many bad people... my bad! Makes it look worse for you however so I can live with the error!

  • bluebandit834 posted at 8:35 am on Sat, Sep 15, 2012.

    bluebandit834 Posts: 11

    It sure has been a long time since I posted anything on the comment section of this newspaper..... but these jail expansion articles irritate me. As has been said below... this country has turned incarceration into a business and they are soaking as much profit from it as they can. I guess I will have to rehash part of a post I sent out a few years ago when the county tried to join the profit game and expand the existing jail and failed miserably because it's NOT NEEDED! I'm not doing this to educate the citizens of this county.... as you can see below, they are very educated already. This is for the people who think this is a good idea AKA the ones who will profit from this little escapade. This is solely for the purpose of rubbing the insane facts in their faces and exposing our pathetic judicial system for what it is. A scam!

    In the mid 80's, our then new county jail was comprised of Approx. 95 beds... The county contained approx. 60,000 people.

    About a decade later The jail was tripled in size to 325 beds and a new work release center was built not long after housing at least 50 or 60 more. This was in response to a population increase to about 90,000. A 300+ percent of jail space needed for a 30 % increase in total people living here. That in itself is insane and it caused a .5 percent increase in our local sales tax..... but it gets worse, much worse!

    Around 2005, you guys tried pushing for (and failed miserably at that) expanding the jail yet again to around 800 beds. According to the current census, our county is now at about 140,000 population. It was around 120,000 in 2005. Thank heavens we have a county full of intelligent voters who told you NO WAY! You then had the gall to ask for a smaller expansion to a total of around 600 beds just a few years later.... it was shot down as well, as it should have been.

    With all that being said.... I have to ask you people.... How can you explain the need for a almost 1000% increase in the amount of jail space when the county's population has only risen 250% at the very most? Are you telling us that there are 4 times as many bad people living here than before? I think not! The truth of the matter is, you will simply fill these new beds with out of state prisoners, pot smokers and jaywalkers who refused to pay their fine in order to make a ton of money. Whoever is in charge here clearly needs to be fired. It's called the public safety building for a reason. Jails are for keeping the public safe! Not for filling your greedy pockets. Do your jobs properly or please kindly step down from your positions of power that you are clearly abusing. Thank You and Good Day!

  • Jeffrey Wherley posted at 8:32 am on Sat, Sep 15, 2012.

    Jeffrey Wherley Posts: 3969


    Even if we do rent out rooms, they will be under contract to be available and when we hit full capacity again, by contract or reality, we will be sending out our inmates again. We need to use less jail space on victimless crimes, not increase bed space for them. With a population of 141,132 and crime rates on the decline, This is an Expensive Jobs program with short term gains at long term costs.

    To qualify for those Federal inmates, Sheriffs corrections deputies will not be enough training (hidden expense), Federal Mandates on Guards to prisoners will apply (hidden expense), Mandatory Support Staffing (hidden expense), Mandatory onsite Medical professionals (hidden expense), Added fiscal Accountability personnel (hidden expense), expanded Transportation abilities (hidden expense).

    This is not a lease program, it is a Loan program that circumvents laws against deficit spending. Can we have them build it, lease it for a couple years and find it unsustainable and leave get out of the lease without paying for the entire cost of the prison? NO I highly doubt the are that dumb. Once Contracted, RMC will be guaranteed their cost and minimal profits at the end of the lease, no matter what happens to the county. This is a loan just under a different name, with no risk on the private side, and full responsibility and risk on the public (Taxpayers) side.

    What will be the increase staffing total expenses on the county, to do the prison to Federal program standards, they are the only government entity willing to pay profitable prices for bed space?

    What will be the Training costs, Maintenance costs and Contractual Costs for the Federal Program standards?

    Once our foot is in the door there is no getting out of this boondoggle.

  • Enough Already posted at 8:20 am on Fri, Sep 14, 2012.

    Enough Already Posts: 211

    Bad advice maybe? Notice in the article it says the BOCC is going to consult with legal something the Sheriff should have done long ago. The Sheriff has been working on this for 10 years and usually what he does is blindly rubberstamped by the BOCC. The legal that is spoken of is also appointed to the Sheriff to assist with whatever he wants. Sadly they are not referred to as the Prosecutor but act in the name of the Prosecutor. Plenty going on behind the scenes but nothing objective especially regarding legal opinions here.

    When Telmate was first considered it was going to involve only two areas for charges then the beast was let loose on the public. Yep visitation for profit is already here and much more. Then again the administrative judge was to be involved instead bypassed in the end among all kinds of very real problems with nothing at all standing in its way. This jail already profits from housing under the tribal contract with now inmates pending court who are being housed out of the county.

    Nothing is for free and this is especially true here. Carefully scrutinized versus mega pressure to just do it no matter what. The public said no to a new jail and here we are with a way around the public seen many times involving this Sheriff and his appointed attorney.

  • jmowreader posted at 4:24 pm on Thu, Sep 13, 2012.

    jmowreader Posts: 1407

    I am seeing too many "could"s, "what if"s and "might"s in this deal to be comfortable with it.

    Start with the Internet Visitation thing, where prisoners will have to pay for access to "visit" their relatives via Skype or something. Now, assuming that the prisoners don't figure out how to turn Internet Visitation into Internet Pornography Viewing or something, the big question mark here is the number of prisoners who can afford to buy this--because if you throw the family breadwinner in jail, his relatives are going to be more worried about eating and avoiding eviction than talking to their loved one over the Internet,.

    Then add in the potential revenue stream from housing other jurisdiction's prisoners. So we fill the place up with federal, Spokane County and Central Idaho prisoners...and then comes August 2022 and the then-prosecutor decides to throw the book at a bunch of Kootenai County residents so we can all see how tough on crime he is just before the election. Those people gotta go somewhere, and unfortunately it's going to be into rented beds in another county. They tell me Maricopa County in Arizona has lots of jail space...and speaking of federal prisoners, is the US government REALLY going to lock up federal offenders in a county jail?

    If we allow this jail to be built, there WILL be a tax increase. Mark my words.

  • R Tanksley posted at 3:36 pm on Thu, Sep 13, 2012.

    R Tanksley Posts: 14

    Does outsourcing prisoners save Kootenai County money? I believe it does. If we have only spent 2.4 million dollars since 2006 to house prisoners outside the county, the citizens are getting a bargain and no new jail is needed. The interest on the bond alone for the jail they previously proposed would seem to far exceed the cost of sending some of the prisoners elsewhere. Imagine if we had built a 20 million dollar facilty in 2006, At 3% interest it figures ot be about 600,000 dollars a year. So instead of saying that outsourcing prisoners has cost us 2.4 million, the reality is that we have saved 1.2 million. (6 years of interest at 600,000 a year would cost around 3.6 million) Granted my figures are not official, they likely are conservative as I believe the jail proposals that were voted on the past were even more than 20 million and there would be other costs other than just to build a new prison. I doubt too that privatizing a new prison would also be more cost effective than outsourcing, not too mention the moral and legal issues that would surround being part of a for profit prison as others have mentioned on this board.

  • Why Not posted at 12:46 pm on Thu, Sep 13, 2012.

    Why Not Posts: 5020

    For profit prisons, it's a bad idea and it has resulted in law suits over civil rights, break outs and if allowed to displace government jails, at some point they will be looking to increase revenue by pushing for more prisoners or longer sentances.

    As GH2 pointed out, we lock people up for no good reason in this country. Victim-less crimes are costing the public a fortune.

  • Will Penny posted at 10:32 am on Thu, Sep 13, 2012.

    Will Penny Posts: 301

    Hey chouli; "what are these commissioners thinking??" The answer is, as usual, not much!

  • wheels1 posted at 7:51 am on Thu, Sep 13, 2012.

    wheels1 Posts: 461

    If the option is still open I suggest we partner with Spokane County on a facility in Airway Heights.I don't think we need to continually grow the jail business.

  • greyhound2 posted at 7:51 am on Thu, Sep 13, 2012.

    greyhound2 Posts: 896

    For-profit prisons only leads to more incarceration with inmates becoming a revenue stream for Wall Street investors. But nobody ever asks why the United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world.

    According to the Bureau of Justice Institute, the incarceration rate in the Pacific Northwest in prison population per 100,000 residents ranks Idaho tops at 474, followed by Montana at 378 and Washington at 269.

    Compared to other countries, the United States tops the list at 730, followed by Russia at 525, Iran at 333, China at 122. And Canada has 117, the UK at 155 and Afganistan at 62 (lowest because the criminals are in charge).

    The biggest single reason people are locked up are parole violations, which masks the underlying charge. The second are victim-less non-violent drug charges. It costs county tax payers about $30,000 per year to warehoue someone in jail. It is not true that there are just more criminals in the United States as a percentage, than in other countries. It is true that the US judicial system is insane.

  • mister d posted at 7:46 am on Thu, Sep 13, 2012.

    mister d Posts: 1531

    The trend of education in Idaho if Luna gets his way!

  • chouli posted at 7:42 am on Thu, Sep 13, 2012.

    chouli Posts: 1283

    when jails become a for profit investment we are all in trouble.
    more and more people will have to go to jail to make the profits.
    what are these commissioners thinking??
    the goal should be to reduce the number of inmates and find punishments that can deter crime AND can help society.
    only the dangerous to society should be housed in jails.
    find more ways to punishand deter crime without jail time by using more types of fines, community service, work crews, etc...NOT housing more people in jails at huge expense.
    do you realize that the US already has more citizens in jail than china...or Iran per capita?
    do some research Idaho and run away from this BAD idea.

  • chouli posted at 7:38 am on Thu, Sep 13, 2012.

    chouli Posts: 1283

    plz put your comments in the paper as a letter to the editor...

  • cdaterry1 posted at 7:30 am on Thu, Sep 13, 2012.

    cdaterry1 Posts: 56

    "Casino Capitalism" continues (we learn nothing from the 2008 financial melt down)....there are numerous articles on the net about how the "prison industry" is wall street's next target.

    Of course they will get no push back from any financial regulations because "wall street" will get congress to "just do another study" while the banksters continue there selfish ways.

    What can we expect when there are No Term limits for congress.

  • Analyst posted at 7:10 am on Thu, Sep 13, 2012.

    Analyst Posts: 1

    It's obvious that county officials have neglected to do the most basic research and background checking regarding this proposal. Had they done so, they would have easily found:
    Idaho has had nothing but problems with the for-profit prison industry, with escapes, riots, exploding costs, unnecessary deaths, chronic failures of oversight, campaign contributions driving public policy and endemic corruption.
    The state's inability to assure professional operation of the prison at Kuna provoked a national scandal. Look up "Gladiator School" for some idea of the horrible performance of this industry.
    Look no further than Hardin, Montana, where Municipal Capital Markets convinced the rubes and hoosiers from the city's hapless "economic development" authority to build an illegal and unneeded jail. It cost the city its reputation, credit rating and future prospects. The project was conceived by Texas hustlers eight years ago, the badly-built jail was completed over five years ago, and it's never held a single prisoner. The authority had issued $27 million in bonds that have been in default for over five years, probably for a jail worth no more than $10 million if it had built it, itself. Despite this, the authority still goes to MCM for advice on what to do with its white elephant.
    In Nevada, Municipal Capital Markets secured financing for a failed jail that was empty for over ten years and sold for about 7 cents on the original dollar.
    It has teamed up with other useless, overpriced, badly designed and poorly constructed lockups that have had counties all over Texas, for instance, bleeding over unsustainable debts and empty jails that were supposed to produce jobs and revenues. Some have involved corruption, such as the notorious prison in Willacy County, Texas.
    The course county officials need to take is to thoroughly examine all its options including first and foremost, perhaps, devising and employing strategies that can safely reduce its jail population. When that is accomplished, it needs to reevaluate the need for, design, capacity and construction of a new jail or expansion, to fully protect both the safety of the taxpayers and assure the thoughtful expenditure of public funds.

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