Study: Idaho not spending prison dollars wisely

Study: Idaho not spending prison dollars wisely

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by Justin Corr

Bio | Email | Follow: @JCorrKTVB

KTVB.COM

Posted on January 16, 2014 at 7:26 PM

Updated Friday, Jan 17 at 8:57 AM

BOISE -- The state's prison system was the big topic of discussion at the Statehouse on Thursday.

A non-profit group released a study that said by moving funding around, the state could keep more people out of prison and save millions of dollars.

The study was done by the Council of State Governments Justice Center and paid for by a grant.

Thursday afternoon, lawmakers assembled to hear the results.

It shows that Idaho is spending too much money on keeping people in prison, instead of keeping people out of prison. While Idaho has a fairly low crime rate, it has the country's second fastest growing prison population.

"Over the next six years, your prison system is expected to grow by another 16 percent," said Mark Pelka, program director for the justice center.

The justice center saw three main challenges causing the Idaho inmate explosion and wasting money.

First, there's a revolving door (too many felons are re-offending). Second, there's an inefficient use of prison space (most of the people in prison are low-risk offenders, violated their parole, or are eligible for parole, but haven't been released). Third, there's insufficient oversight (the state doesn't track whether its parole or probation programs are working).

So, what are the solutions? Pelka says, "It's making sure that you're prioritizing your resources inside the walls for the violent sex offenders and freeing up resources to be applied to property and drug offenders after release from prison."

The study suggests three main policies. First, it recommends strengthening supervision and treatment programs to keep felons from re-offending. Second, it suggests directing more non-violent offenders to probation, and violent high-risk offenders to prison. Third, it recommends tracking the impact of the policies made to see if they're working.

The chairman of the House Judiciary and Rules Committee says he wants to roll out these policies over five years, starting with those focused on strengthening supervision and treatment programs. "We can get this program going like we need to, and get all of these people that we're talking about back into society as productive members of society. That's what our ultimate objective is," said Rep. Richard Wills.

Wills also talked about how much money these policies can save taxpayers. "We can save this state $290 million in five years, by a $33 million investment. That is data driven, not just estimates, that's data driven information."

Rep. Wills, a retired Idaho State Police officer, congratulated all the agencies that came together to provide all the data for this study. He said it's the first time he's seen that on this level.

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