The state Board of Corrections has conditionally endorsed Pocatello as the location for a proposed $10 million women's prison and given local officials until Jan. 7 to come up with a suitable site.
But board members also scheduled a tour of a 600-acre parcel of Idaho Department of Health and Welfare land in the Nampa area Friday, keeping options open in case Pocatello officials are unable to meet their needs."We feel we can delay this decision no later than our January board meeting," scheduled Jan. 11, the board said in a letter to Pocatello Mayor Peter Angstadt, Bannock County Commission Chairman Tom Katsilometes and Tom Arnold of Bannock Development Corp.
Board members said the tentative decision to locate the 160-bed women's facility in Pocatello, including a 60-bed community work center outside the main prison walls, was based largely on the support local officials and residents have shown for the proposal.
Chairman Wendell Miller of Idaho Falls said Boise Mayor Dirk Kempthorne's endorsement of Pocatello's bid last month over two sites south of his own city was indicative of the Boise area's apparent indifference to being the home of another prison, although Ada County officials remain interested.
Corrections Director Richard Vernon said the best of the three Pocatello sites put forward so far is on Philbin Road on the city's northwest side, and he agreed with board members that Pocatello offers an impressive array of facilities and services, including educational and medical.
"It's obvious to me that the willingness is certainly there and the opportunity to develop something that would be excellent," he said.
But all three sites proposed so far, which are on private land, have serious flaws. The Philbin Road location, near FMC Corp. and J.R. Simplot Co. phosphate plants, is in a "non-attainment area" for air pollution.
"That's obviously the best site except for this one very serious concern," Vernon said.
"We're investigating that. That may be very difficult to overcome," board member Nick Miller of Boise said.
Another site east of Pocatello is on hillside land that poses construction problems, and a third on the city's south side is too small, in a fairly dense light industrial area and atop an old automobile wrecking yard that could pose environmental problems.
Wendell Miller said the Nampa site, since it is on land already owned by the state that would not have to be purchased, "would probably be the most economical." And all the board members agreed locating the women's prison away from Boise probably would be best.
"We would like to somewhat decentralize," the chairman said. "We realize there are other parts of the state that would like the economic impact."
A women's prison, which would have up to 90 employees and a projected annual payroll of about $2 million, is only part of a major cell-space expansion the board wants to cope with a skyrocketing inmate population.
Even with the opening of the new 248-bed maximum-security prison in Boise a year ago, inmates continued backing up in county jails as the prison system coped with a federal court order aimed at eliminating overcrowded conditions in the state system.
Bids were let earlier this week for 190-bed medium security unit at the main prison south of Boise. The cost was put at $1.8 million.
In addition to the $5 million to $6 million facility for 100 women, the state plan calls for eventual development of a 60-bed community work center for female inmates, giving them the opportunity for employment or education.