Correctional Industries, Idaho's profitable inmate-employing enterprise, has reached a crossroads and will need state assistance in order to grow, Department of Corrections officials say.

"We need to re-establish our direction," program administrator Melvin Johnson said Friday, calling for a summit meeting with legislators and Gov. Cecil Andrus to chart the future of Correctional Industries.Sparking the debate is the governor's recent criticism of a proposal to use inmates in asbestos-removal projects as unfair competition against private contractors.

The plan involves training minimum-custody inmates to clear the carcinogen from aging public buildings. Johnson has predicted savings of up to 40 percent over private bids.

But Andrus supports only training inmates, not the formation of an entity that would go head to head with the private sector, said Chief of Staff Mike Mitchell.

Utah is the only state in the nation using inmates for out-of-prison asbestos removal. It launched a 28-inmate program 16 months ago. Illinois uses inmates to remove asbestos from prison facilities.

"Right now, the program's at a crossroads," said Idaho Corrections director Richard Vernon, a Correctional Industries advocate.

The three-member state Board of Correction delayed action on the asbestos-eradication plan Friday, agreeing with Johnson that the state first must decide whether it wants inmates to be employed productively.

"We're expected to be a business" that makes an annual profit, yet competing in the marketplace is frowned upon, Johnson said. "You can't have it both ways. For anything we do, including the making of license plates, there's a private firm that does it."