Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter Wednesday began selling a plan to lawmakers to let prison companies own and operate for-profit lockups in Idaho, arguing it's better for corporations to pay upfront costs of housing a growing inmate population than it is for the state to sell bonds for such projects, like it's done in the past.
Currently, Idaho law prevents corporations from building for-profit prisons here.
For instance, although Corrections Corporation of America (nyse: CXW - news - people ), based in Tennessee, built the Idaho Correctional Center south of Boise in 2000 and now runs it, the state owns the facility.Otter, a former businessman who touts free-market solutions, aims to let firms like Corrections Corporation of America and Florida's The GEO Group Inc. build a $250 million, 2,100-bed prison, starting as soon as possible. Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome and the other co-chairwoman of the budget-writing panel, said allowing a private company to own such a facility could leave Idaho without adequate control.
She cites an example in which Corrections Corporation of America earlier this month asked Colorado to approve a 5 percent payment hike in each of the next five years - or else it would move Colorado inmates out of one of its private prisons and bring in prisoners from California. A Colorado prison spokeswoman confirmed to the AP such a request had been made.
"We have a good relationship with Corrections Corporation of America at the Idaho Correctional Center for the simple reason that we own the facility," Bell said
Hensley countered Otter's legislation will include the appropriate "sideboards" to avoid the situation Colorado now faces.
"We have the huge benefit that we can learn from lessons of Colorado and other states," he said.
Both Corrections Corporation of America and GEO have hired lobbyists in Idaho to push for Otter's changes. In addition, the companies have given at least $40,000 in campaign contributions to Idaho lawmakers in recent elections, including at least $15,000 to Otter's 2006 gubernatorial race.
Few lawmakers have seen details of Otter's plan, but at least some are warming to it.