Yet another Idaho prisoner has committed suicide in a GEO Group prison in Texas, according to an article in the Times-News ("Inmate suicide could be second for prison program" August 21),
The state's Virtual Prison Program is only a year old and the Monday death of inmate Randall McCullough, 37, could be the second suicide involving the initiative outside of Idaho.
Idaho prison officials said Wednesday they're still investigating if McCullough committed suicide at a private contracted facility in Texas - Bill Clayton Detention Center run by the GEO Group Inc. - which is holding 371 inmates each at $51 per day under a contract that expires in July 2009.
The Virtual Prison Program started in July 2007, but the state started putting inmates in non-state owned facilities in October 2005, said Idaho Department of Correction Spokesman Jeff Ray.
Six state inmates have committed suicide since July 2006, not including McCullough, Ray said.
This death follows the tragic death of Scot Noble Payne a year ago at GEO's Dickens County Correctional Center. After Noble Payne's suicide, a subsequent investigation revealed squalid conditions and the Idaho Department of Corrections Health Director called the prison the worst facility he'd ever seen. Incredibly, and against our advice, Idaho didn't bring its prisoners back home, it moved them to other GEO prisons in the state.
Clearly, housing inmates thousands of miles away from family and a support network creates even more isolating conditions for prisoners and makes re-entry much more difficult. Simply put, it's bad public policy. McCullough family sums it better than I can in the Times-News article,
Some of McCullough's family members said they think Idaho should keep its inmates in the state.
IDOC has said building another with 1,500 beds could cost $191 million - not including staff, Ray said.
Family of Idaho inmates housed in other states can't visit them easily, said McCullough's grandmother, Nadine Smith, of Twin Falls. "He was in trouble, he was in prison, but we missed him and wanted to see him."
McCullough's sister, Laurie Williams, of Lynden, Wash., said she hadn't seen him in three years.
"I don't think (Virtual Prison Program) should exist," Williams said. "Idaho should step up to the plate and bring their prisoners home."
Prisoners are isolated even more when distanced from their families, said Williams. "That's all they have to look forward to. They have nothing else except the people in there ... That's damn lonely."
Texas should strongly consider a disallowing prison facilities from importating out-of-state prisoners. We don't want to have to be writing a similar story about and Idaho inmate at a GEO Group Texas prison next summer.