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Justice reinvestment bill gets enthusiastic endorsement of House committee

After 10 months of research, long hearings and hard work by all three branches of Idaho’s state government, the justice reinvestment bill won quick and unanimous support this afternoon in the House Judiciary Committee. “I think enough’s been said,” said Rep. Linden Bateman, R-Idaho Falls, after he said he was honored to make the motion to approve the bill. SB 1357 now moves to the full House; earlier, it passed the Senate unanimously, 35-0. The measure, which just needs House passage and the governor’s signature to become law, launches a five-year project to reform Idaho’s criminal justice system by strengthening parole and probation supervision and treatment; tailoring sanctions for violators to match the offense, rather than either just ignoring the violations or sending the offender back to prison; and stepping up data-gathering, from risk assessments to outcomes, to make sure the fixes work.

All are aimed at problems highlighted by the research, which was done with the Council of State Governments’ Justice Center and the Pew Trusts over the past year; it found that Idaho keeps non-violent offenders behind bars twice as long as the rest of the nation, and the state has one of the nation’s fastest-growing prison populations even though it has one of the lowest crime rates. By reserving prison cells for the most dangerous offenders and addressing a “revolving door of recidivism” the studies identified – particularly for those released on probation or parole who end up back in prison – the hope is to save Idaho millions, while also helping more former offenders succeed and become law-abiding, productive citizens.

“This has been a work in progress for a long, long while,” House Judiciary Chairman Rich Wills, R-Glenns Ferry, told the committee. “I’m really proud to tell you that the executive branch, the judicial branch and the legislative branch are all on the same page.”

Holly Koole of the Idaho Prosecuting Attorneys Association told the lawmakers, “We really appreciate the prosecutors being involved in every step along the way of this process. … It’s been a long year, but we have worked hard on this and we support this bill, and we appreciate everybody’s hard work.”

State Corrections Director Brent Reinke said, “The way we really measure our success is going to be based on our outcome data.” The project is aimed at saving $288 million the state otherwise would have to spend to build a new prison within five years, by investing $33 million into the reforms. SB 1357 has a price tag of a little over $2 million; the remainder of the estimated first-year cost of $5.5 million is in items included in the governor’s recommended budget for the Department of Correction for next year, which the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee approved this morning.


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Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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