No business in its right mind would subcontract out work its own employees could do cheaper and better.
Yet the Idaho Board of Correction - and by extension, Gov. C.L. (Butch) Otter - won't even consider whether the state Department of Correction can manage the Idaho Correctional Center outside Boise more efficiently and more effectively than a private contractor.
So state Rep. John Gannon, D-Boise, is drafting a measure requiring all state agencies to consider bids from public as well as private entities.
Here's what it's come to in the Gem State.
It wasn't enough that Corrections Corporation of America transformed ICC into a "gladiator school" by so understaffing the joint that inmates turned on each other.
It doesn't seem to matter that the prison contractor is defending itself against charges it billed the state for thousands of shift hours that were not filled.
Allegations that CCA has turned over tiers to gang members haven't made much of a dent, nor, apparently, has the company's decision to settle a class-action lawsuit over excessive levels of violence.
Otter's Board of Correction refuses to end Idaho's failed experiment with private prison management. It will accept bids from anyone except Idaho's own corrections agency.
The board doesn't want to know what it doesn't know.
It doesn't want to know if a state agency that manages its prisons while keeping prisoners safer, gang activity in check and its own staffers on the job could get the same results at ICC.
It doesn't care to inquire into what it would actually cost to run ICC without the need to generate a profit. Nationally, CCA earned $156 million on revenues of $1.7 billion last year. But nobody knows how much of the $29 million Idaho pays CCA annually goes to the bottom line and how much goes into overhead. There's no way to check because Idaho has never managed ICC on its own.
It hasn't delved into Gannon's disclosure that Idaho prison guards earn about $10,000 or 35 percent below the national median. Wouldn't that suggest the state doesn't save as much by relying on private prison management?
You've yet to hear anyone at the Board of Correction dispute how private contractors such as CCA cherry pick healthier, less troublesome inmates who cost less to manage and steer clear of prisoners who require more resources - women, the mentally ill, the physically infirm, security risks and death row inmates.
The board hasn't asked whether any manager - public or private - would benefit from operating in one of Idaho's newest prisons where modern design and advanced surveillance technology cut down on the need for personnel.
You can bet no one on the board has picked up the phone and called the Hernando County (Florida) sheriff's office - which saved $1 million by resuming management of its jail from CCA. Nor has an Idaho board member checked in with Bay County (Florida) commissioners, who claimed it was $1.3 million cheaper to run their jail than to contract with CCA.
Chairwoman Robin Sandy doesn't want to hear this and Otter doesn't want to insist. That leaves Gannon's bill.
Stunning, isn't it? Nothing short of an act of the Legislature will compel Otter's team to look at what's the best deal for the Idaho taxpayers. - M.T.