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Eye On Boise

Thu., Feb. 27, 2014, 3:57 p.m.

Senate votes unanimously in favor of justice reinvestment bill

The Idaho Senate has voted unanimously in favor of the justice reinvestment bill, sending it to the House side. The 35-0 vote on SB 1357 followed enthusiastic debate in favor of the measure, which would invest in reforms to the state’s probation and parole system and community treatment programs, while moving to prioritize prison space for more-violent offenders. The aim is to reduce Idaho’s overly high recidivism rate, promote public safety and save money – a lot of money, if it succeeds in its goal of heading off the construction of an otherwise needed $288 million new prison in the coming years.

“It’ll slow the growth of the prison population between 2015 and 2019,” Senate Judiciary Chair Patti Anne Lodge, R-Huston, told the Senate. “And these policies will help Idaho avoid $288 million in spending that would otherwise be needed to accommodate the forecasted growth. If we invest $33 million in probation and parole officer training, risk-reduction services for people on supervision and implementation of quality assurance measures, we can achieve that savings.”

Ten months of research went into the bill, with the help of the Council of State Governments’ Justice Center and the Pew Trusts. Idaho has one of the nation’s lowest crime rates, the project found, but one of the fastest-growing prison populations – and non-violent offenders spend twice as long behind bars in Idaho as in the rest of the nation.

“This legislation is a consensus bill – all three branches of government were involved in it,” Lodge said, including “prosecutors, judges, sheriffs, other law enforcement.” She said, “Good senators, it was a lot of work but well worth it, and we will work hard during this next year to make sure that these strategies are implemented and that we can achieve the savings that we’re outlining for you today.” The bill carries a price tag of just under $3 million, but additional amounts are being tagged in the budget for the state Department of Correction to fund the full first year of the five-year, phased-in $33 million investment, which comes to $5.5 million for fiscal year 2015. The bill now heads to the House side; House Judiciary Chairman Rich Wills, R-Glenns Ferry, is co-sponsoring the measure with Lodge.

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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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