She never saw him again.
In July, she went to the Post Office to pick up his ashes, mailed home in a box. He died of a traumatic brain injury in Oklahoma, allegedly assaulted by another inmate.
David Drashner was one of hundreds of male inmates Idaho authorities have sent to private prisons in other states. About 10 percent of Idaho's inmates are now out-of-state.
Drashner, who was convicted of repeat drunken driving, is one of three Idaho inmates who have died in the custody of private lockups in other states since March 2007, and was the first this year. On Aug. 18, Twin Falls native Randall McCullough, 37, apparently killed himself at the Bill Clayton Detention Center in Littlefield, Texas.
McCullough, serving time for robbery, was found dead in his cell. IDOC officials say he left a note, though autopsy results are pending.
His family says he shouldn't have been in Texas at all.
"Idaho should step up to the plate and bring their prisoners home," said his sister, Laurie Williams.
Out of Idaho
Idaho has so many prisoners scattered around the country that the IDOC last year developed the Virtual Prison Program, assigning 12 officers to monitor the distant prisons.
In 2007 Idaho sent 429 inmates to Texas and Oklahoma. This year; more than 700 - and by one estimate it could soon hit 1,000.
But officials say they don't know exactly how many inmates may hit the road in coming months. The number may actually fall due to an unexpected drop in total prisoner head-count, a turnabout attributed to a drop in sentencings, increased paroles and better success rates for probationers. The state will also have about 1,300 more beds in Idaho, thanks to additions at existing prisons.
State officials say bringing inmates back is a priority.
"If there was any way to not have inmates out-of-state it would be far, far better," said IDOC Director Brent Reinke, a former Twin Falls County commissioner, noting higher costs to the state and inconvenience to inmate families.
Still, there's no end in sight for virtual prisons, which have few fans in state government.
"I do think sending inmates out-of-state is counter-productive," said Rep. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise, a member of the House Judiciary, Rules and Administration Committee. LeFavour favors treatment facilities over prisons. "We try to make it (sending inmates out-of-state) a last resort, but I don't think we're doing enough."
Even lawmakers who favor buying more cells would like to avoid virtual lockups.
"It's more productive to be in-state," said Sen. Denton Darrington, R-Declo, chairman of the Senate Judiciary and Rules Committee, who said he would support a new Idaho prison modeled after the state-owned but privately run Idaho Correctional Center (ICC). "We don't want to stay out-of-state unless we have to …#045; It's undesirable."
A decade of movement
Idaho has shipped inmates elsewhere for more than a decade, though in some years they were all brought home when beds became available at four of Idaho's state prisons.
The 1,500-bed ICC - a state-owned lockup built and run by CCA (Corrections Corporation of America) - also opened in 2000.
But that wasn't enough: "It will be years before a substantial increase in prison capacity will allow IDOC to bring inmates back," the agency said in April.
In 2005, former IDOC director Tom Beauclair warned lawmakers that "if we delay building the next prison, we'll have to remain out-of-state longer with more inmates," according to an IDOC press release.
That year inmates were taken to a Minnesota prison operated by CCA, where Idaho paid $5 per inmate, per day more than it costs to keep inmates in its own prisons.
"This move creates burdens for our state fiscally, and can harden our prison system, but it's what we must do," IDOC said at the time. "Our ability to stretch the system is over."
Attempts to add to that system have largely failed.
Earlier this year Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter asked lawmakers for $191 million in bond authority to buy a new 1,500-bed lockup. The Legislature rejected his request, but did approve those 1,300 new beds at existing facilities.
Reinke said IDOC won't ask for a new prison when the next Legislative session convenes in January. With a slow economy and a drop in inmate numbers, it's not the time to push for a new prison, he said.
Still, recent projections for IDOC show that without more prison beds here, 43 percent of all Idaho inmates could be sent out-of-state in 2017.
"It's a lot of money to go out-of-state," Darrington said.
One of eight prisons in Idaho is run by a private company, as are those housing Idaho inmates in Texas and Oklahoma.
The Bill Clayton Detention Center in Texas is operated by the Geo Group Inc., which is managing or developing 64 lockups in the U.S., Australia and South Africa.
The North-Fork Correctional Facility in Oklahoma is owned and operated by CCA, which also has the contract to run the Idaho Correction Center.
CCA houses almost 75,000 inmates and detainees in 66 facilities under various state and federal contracts.
Critics of private prisons say the operators boost profits by skimping on programs, staff, and services.
Idaho authorities acknowledge the prisons make money, but consider them well-run.
"Private prisons are just that - business run," Idaho Virtual Prison Program Warden Randy Blades told the Times-News. "It doesn't mean out-of-sight, or out-of-mind."
Yet even Reinke added that "I think there's a difference. Do we want there to be? No."
The Association of Private Correctional and Treatment Organizations (APCTO) says on its Web site that its members "deliver reduced costs, high quality, and enhanced accountability."
Thomas Aragon, a convicted thief from Nampa, was shipped to three different Texas prisons in two years. He said prisons there did little to rehabilitate him, though he's up for parole next year.
"I'm a five-time felon, all grand theft and possession of stolen property," said Aragon, by telephone from the ICC. "Apparently I have a problem and need to find out why I steal. The judge said I needed counseling and that I'd get it, and I have yet to get any."
State officials said virtual prisons have a different culture, but are adapting to Idaho standards.
"We're taking the footprint of Idaho and putting it into facilities out-of-state," Blades said.
Aragon, 39, says more programs are available in Idaho compared to the Texas facilities where he was.
Like Aragon, almost 70 percent of Idaho inmates sent to prison in 2006 and 2007 were recidivists - repeat IDOCoffenders - according agency annual reports.
GEOand CCA referred questions about recidivism to APCTO, which says only that its members reduce the rate of growth of public spending.
Aragon said there weren't enough case-workers, teachers, programs, recreational activities and jobs in Texas.
Comparisons between public and private prisons are made difficult because private companies didn't readily offer numbers for profits, recidivism, salaries and inmate-officer ratios.
During recent visits to the Bill Clayton Detention Center in Littlefield, Texas - where about 371 Idaho inmates are now held - state inspectors found there wasn't a legal aid staffer to give inmates access to courts, as required by the state contract. Virtual Prison monitors also agreed with Aragon's assessment:
"No programs are offered at the facility," a state official wrote in a recently redacted Idaho Virtual Prison report obtained by the Times-News. "Most jobs have to do with keeping the facility clean and appear to be less meaningful. This creates a shortage of productive time with the inmates.
"Overall, recreational activities are very sparse within the facility …#045; Informal attempts have been made to encourage the facility to increase offender activities that would in the long run ease some of the boredom that IDOC inmates are experiencing," according to a Virtual Prison report.
The prison has since made improvements, the state said.
Only one inmate case manager worked at Bill Clayton during a recent state visit, but the facility did increase recreation time and implemented in-cell hobby craft programs, Virtual Prison reports show.
Other inmate complaints have grown from the way they have been sent to the prisons.
Inmates describe a horriffic bus ride from Idaho to Oklahoma in April in complaints collected by the American Civil Liberties Union in Boise. The inmates say they endured painful and injurious wrist and ankle shackling, dangerous driving, infrequent access to an unsanitary restroom and dehydration during the almost 30-hour trip.
"We're still receiving a lot of complaints, some of them are based on retaliatory transfers," said ACLU lawyer Lea Cooper.
IDOC officials acknowledge that they have also received complaints about access to restrooms during the long bus rides, but they maintain that most of the inmates want to go out-of-state. Many are sex offenders who prefer the anonymity associated with being out-of-state, they said.
Three deaths of Idaho interstate inmates in 18 months have left families concerned that even more prisoners will come home in ashes.
"We're very disturbed about...the rate of Idaho prisoner deaths for out-of-state inmates," Cooper said.
It was the razor-blade suicide of sex-offender Scott Noble Payne, 43, in March 2007 at a Geo lockup in Dickens, Texas that caught the attention of state officials.
Noble's death prompted Idaho to pull all its inmates from the Geo prison. State officials found the facility was in terrible condition, but they continue to work with Geo, which houses 371 Idaho inmates in Littlefield, Texas, where McCullough apparently killed himself.
Noble allegedly escaped before he was caught and killed himself. Inmate Aragon said he as there, and that Noble was hog-tied and groaned in pain while guards warned other inmates they would face the same if they tried to escape.
Private prison operators don't have to tell governments everything about the deaths at facilities they run. The state isn't allowed access to Geo's mortality and morbidity reports under terms of a contract.
Idaho sent additional inmates to the Corrections Corporation of America-run Oklahoma prison after Drashner's husband died in June. IDOC officials said an Idaho official was inspecting the facility when he was found.
IDOC has offered few details about the death.
"The murder happened in Oklahoma," said IDOC spokesman Jeff Ray, adding it will be up to Oklahoma authorities to charge.
Drashner said her husband had a pending civil case in Idaho and shouldn't have been shipped out-of-state.
She says Idaho and Oklahoma authorities told her David was assaulted by another inmate after he verbally defended an officer at the Oklahoma prison. Officers realized something was wrong when he didn't stand up for a count, Drashner said.
"He was healthy. He wouldn't have been killed over here," she said.