Abandoned school may turn into prison facility
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ST. ANTHONY — An empty elementary school could be turned into a work camp.
The Idaho Department of Corrections is considering purchasing Lincoln Elementary School and converting it into a similar facility as the St. Anthony Work Camp.
“That property was part of a proposal that we made to the Board of Corrections in terms of responding to our prison overcrowding issue here in Idaho,” Idaho Department of Corrections Director Henry Atencio told EastIdahoNews.com.
Atencio explained if IDOC were to purchase the school, it would be converted into an extension of the St. Anthony Work Camp and provide an additional 100 beds for low-risk inmates coming to the end of their sentences.
“We bring them in and we start teaching them some life skills. We get them out to work in the community and break down some of the institutionalization so they’re ready to release back out in the community,” St. Anthony Work Camp Warden Glenn Armstrong said.
Armstrong explained if the IDOC is going to expand bed space, facilities like his are the place to do it because these kinds of facilities have “the best opportunity to rehabilitate offenders.” He also said his 270-bed facility is not immune to Idaho’s overcrowding problem.
“I think it’s a product of our growing state,” Atencio said of the overcrowding problem. “We’re one of the fastest growing states in the country. The opioid epidemic has hit us as well and you’re just seeing more and more people being sent to prison as well. We have to find a way to respond to that.”
Fremont County Superintendent Byron Stutzman said the St. Anthony Work Camp has been a good part of the community but acknowledged that there are some concerns about the proposal.
“I know the neighbors of Lincoln Elementary are not very happy with the idea of the Work Camp taking over that facility, and I understand that,” Stutzman told EastIdahoNews.com.
Armstrong said he hopes to have an open house at the current facility on July 18 that will provide the public the opportunity to see how the facility works.
“I don’t think a lot of folks know what we’re about or all the positive things that we’re doing,” Armstrong said.
Even if the public is on board with the idea, the Board of Corrections has to approve the roughly $500 million expansion proposal and the Fremont County School Board has to decide whether or not they will put Lincoln Elementary up for sale.
According to an appraisal of the property, the facility has an estimated worth of $262,300. Stutzman said the IDOC is not the only entity interested in the property.
“It’s my understanding that if we put it up for bid again, the board has two choices – either take the highest bid or reject all bids,” Stutzman said.
He said the school board will vote on putting the school up for sale on July 25.
Atencio said the Board of Corrections will meet on July 2 to vote on the proposal.