Eye On Boise

Idaho prisons chief pleads for end to staff furloughs

Idaho’s state prison system, with its crimped budget, has continued to put employees on furlough this year, to the tune of 90,000 furlough hours for the fiscal year. That includes 15,000 fewer hours spent monitoring probationers and parolees in the community. State Corrections Director Brent Reinke said the department is saving $1.89 million this year because of furloughs – they’ve even helped push down the overall cost per inmate from $57.44 per day in fiscal 2009 to $52.22 per day in fiscal 2010 - but it doesn’t want to continue them next year. In fiscal year 2010, staff furloughs were equivalent to losing 35 staffers, Reinke told JFAC, at a time when the prison system also eliminated 71 permanent positions and 32 temporary ones.


Idaho’s corrections budget has dropped 19 percent since fiscal year 2009. Cost-saving moves have included everything from trimming food costs to 83 cents per meal to setting up a trio of options for short-term sentencing, with three, six- and nine-month options, and carefully shifting inmates among the lowest-cost beds that are appropriate for them. Meanwhile, Reinke said, other states are looking at releasing thousands of inmates due to budget crises, a move Idaho hasn’t considered. “Idaho’s path is different from other states,” Reinke said, focusing instead on moves to drive down the inmate population and control costs. “We want to be sure in the department that the short-term crises that we have do not lead to long-term consequences.”

 

But the cutbacks are taking a toll, he said, particularly on staff. Turnover has ballooned to 28 percent, which then bumps up training costs. “I need to be able to touch the minds and hearts of our staff, because I’ve already picked their pocket,” Reinke said. “It’s got to be about keeping Idaho safe.”




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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Russell covers Idaho news from the state capitol in Boise and writes the Eye on Boise blog.

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