By Clint Duane
In an attempt to alleviate overcrowding in Idaho’s County jails, I.D.O.C. has begun initiating a sequence of phases to further overcrowd our 104% capacity prison system (as federal investigation now shows). Inmates in county jails have slightly more rights than do inmates in prison, as they have the illusion of being innocent until proven guilty whereas with prison inmates, that illusion has been done away with. Therefore county jails have stricter standards for housing space over that of prisons.
As a result, here at I.S.C.C. phase one of the overcrowding initiation began several months ago this year 2017.
Phase 1A and 1B began as an excuse used due to renovations needed in Orofino’s I.C.I.O., where inmates were temporarily shipped to I.S.C.C. until the renovations were completed in Orofino. It began in the open dorms of I.S.C.C. formerly known as West Wing – M through R, and S through X. each unit was initially designed in 2000 to hold 42 inmates. Each cubicle at that time had one set of bunks. Over the years, what was then I.C.C. (PREVIOUSLY owned and operated by Corrections Corporation of America) added another set of bunks to each cubicle with the bottom bunk being used to house a third inmate, and the top bunk used to store property. Imagine the space the size of an office cubicle (6’D x 8’W x 5’6″H).
With its three walls then imagine 3 people being bunked in that space. If you have seen office cubicles (6’D x 8’W x 5’6″H), then you can picture how crowded a three bed unit was. As part of this ‘temporary’ setting due to the Orofino renovation, the bunks with the wall facing the open space of the dayroom began housing 4 people, eliminating the space that was used for storage in an already tight living quarter. That was phase 1A. Phase 1B included a bunk that actually has a 6″ concrete dividing wall between one person and the next. The issue with that 5’6″ wall is that one only has to lift one’s head slightly to be staring into the eyes of the person in the bunk next to him. Only spouses should have that little bit of space between them, and even then they can usually move away, and have more space between them than inmates in this position can – due to the narrowness of the bunks.
Phase two began after I.C.I.O. recalled their dispersed inmates and moved them back to their assigned Orofino beds. Only this didn’t stop the ‘temporary’ bedding assignment. Instead it began phase 2.
Phase 2 is the renumbering of the bunks. Initially they were numbered by the cubicle number (i.e. #3) and the beds were labeled A for the top bunk, B for the bottom bunk, the C for the single bunk with the fourth bunk divided up for storage for the three inmates. However, with Phase 2, each cubicle was split in two (i.e. now #3 A,B,C became #5 A,B and #6 A,B), to make it look legal on paper, as if only 2 people lived in a space instead of the possible 4 in the same space. Now the bunks are numbered 1-38 which means, instead of housing 42 inmates as had been initially designed and intended, now each unit will house potentially 76 inmates. This not only causes an overcrowding conundrum, but also shrinks the available storage space for each inmate, the required dayroom access space, and the allotted 1 toilet/shower per 10 inmates law. That’s right, law requires a certain amount of storage space, dayroom space, living space, and toiletry/hygiene space. Not to mention that with every other inmate living literally 6″ away from each other, the potential health hazards this likely would cause.
Phase 3 began during the week of the writing of this article which is the electrical reassignment. Each cubicle, because it was designed to only hold two people, had one electrical 2 plug outlet. This week, maintenance has been systematically adding another electrical outlet to accommodate 4 people (one plug in per person).
Now what are inmates to do with all their displaced property? Well it has already been shown, with the initial ‘temporary’ 4 man cubicles. Each inmate can have one regular sized tote and one large tote (about the same space as the totes you would buy at Wal-Mart to store your holiday goodies, for instance your Halloween decorations would likely fit in the standard size tote, and your Christmas decorations would fit in the larger tote). Initially these would fit under the bunks, with the smaller totes optionally being stacked on the spare bunk. But with 4 People per cubicle, if each inmate has his allotted 2 totes per person, there is not enough room to fit them all under the bunks. The extra totes are then placed in the walkway. So what’s wrong with that? Fire Code. Each walkway was measured for code, allowing for ease of movement, and in the event of a fire, space for firefighters to move around. Another advantage of the space in the walkway allows for medical staff, with their rolling carts, to get to an ill or seizing inmate when needed. But if all these extra totes are strewn up and down the walkway, Codes and laws are broken, and potential safety hazards are caused.
So to recap, there are 12 open dorms, that were designed to hold 42 inmates per dorm, during the early 2000’s that number jumped to over 50 inmates per dorm and to further exacerbate the crowding conundrum, it now looks like there will be 76 inmates in each dorm. That’s 24 more inmates per dorm, increasing the overall space of all 12 dorms to 288 more inmates than these units were designed for. The space remains the same, only the number of inmates will have been increased, unless this issue is resolved. Very few if any of Idaho’s Prisons come close to meeting national standards.
Reform can only take place with awareness and action. We can only give you the awareness, it’s up to you to write your Governor, Congress Person, and Senator to begin the process of alleviating the unspoken and unheard issues going on inside the prison system.