All told, the budget set in JFAC this morning for Idaho’s state prison system comes to $215.2 million in state general funds, a 3.7 percent increase over this year, and $243.3 million in total funds, up 6.3 percent from this year. State prisons chief Kevin Kempf said inmate numbers are declining and more are being released on parole, amid other changes in Idaho’s prison system.
“Certainly justice reinvestment is playing a part,” he said. “Our Parole Commission has done a very good job” of following the plan, which calls for reserving prison cell space for the most dangerous offenders.
“These inmates, they’re not magically disappearing,” Kempf said. “They’re going to parole, and that is where our focus turns.” That’s part of the reason, he said, that he’s eliminated 15 staffers from the Corrections Department headquarters and transferred them to front-line jobs, with two going to state prisons and 13 going to Pardons and Parole. In the past six months, 400 inmates were released on parole; most were property and drug crime offenders, Kempf said.
He’s focused now on a new “community mentors” program the department is launching across the state, recruiting volunteers to serve as mentors for newly released prisoners; Kempf has dubbed the program “Free to Succeed.” He said, “We’ve got to connect them to that community.” So the department is in the midst of meeting with community-based organizations and faith-based organizations around the state to find and train those volunteers. “There’s so much interest,” Kempf said. “My emails are blowing up.”
The mentor program isn’t a line item in the newly set corrections budget; it’s being launched with existing staff and funding, Kempf said. “A parolee that fails out in the community is not just a Department of Corrections problem – it’s a community problem,” he said. “This is what Idahoans do.”
Each division of the Corrections budget was approved in JFAC today on a unanimous, 19-0 vote. The budget for the Commission for Pardons & Parole also won unanimous support; it reflects an 8.1 percent increase in state general funds next year to $2.9 million; it’s a 7.9 percent increase in total funds. That budget matches both the commission’s request and Gov. Butch Otter’s recommendation.
The budget bills still need passage in both houses and the governor’s signature to become law, but budget bills rarely change once they’re set by the joint committee.