Overcrowded prisoners to take sleep shifts
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Idaho ponders having prisoners sleep in shifts
Wed Jan 11, 2006 9:37 AM ET
By Shea Andersen
BOISE, Idaho (Reuters) - With space scarce as the U.S. prison population grows, a top Idaho lawmaker is proposing that inmates share beds by sleeping in shifts, a practice sometimes used by the U.S. military.
"Why does every inmate need his or her own bed?" asked State Sen. Robert Geddes. "The military does it all the time."
The issue arises as Idaho and other states stiffen penalties for drug-related crimes, putting a premium on prison space. Idaho has nearly 7,000 inmates, and that number is growing by nearly 7 percent a year.
Geddes, the Republican president of the State Senate, said taxpayers should not be responsible for the cost of transferring prisoners out of state, as Idaho does to ease overcrowding.
"The costs are tremendous," Geddes said in an interview.
Since unveiling his plan last week, he said he has received calls from inmate families who like the idea of having their incarcerated relatives closer to home instead of out of state.
But Idaho Corrections Division Director Tom Beauclair said on Tuesday that the idea would create more problems than it would solve.
"It would actually double the population at a facility," Beauclair said. "I don't have the staff to handle it. If you have an emergency, where do you put people?"
A prison overcrowding expert said the concept has been discussed for years but remains completely untested.
"I can't think of any correctional facility where people share a bunk," said Robert Sigler, a professor of criminal justice at the University of Alabama.
He warned that courts have tended to frown on prisons that are crowding their inmates, whether they have a bed or not. "It's not how many times you rotate that bed, it's how much living space you provide," Sigler said.
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