The House has killed legislation from Rep. Joe Palmer, R-Meridian, to sharply cut back the Correctional Industries program that employs Idaho inmates and teaches them job skills while in prison; among other products, the CI program produces office furniture, license plates, upholstery and more. The House turned thumbs down on Palmer’s bill on a 30-39 vote, with members saying inmates need to learn job skills so they can become productive members of society when they return to society.
Palmer’s bill, HB 711, was just introduced last week; it was opposed by the state’s corrections director, the state Board of Corrections chair, and the head of the Correctional Industries program. Palmer said he believes the program is competing with private industry; he said he was contacted by a cabinet maker in Meridian who was concerned about competition, and when the CI program didn’t agree to stop producing cabinets, he proposed the bill.
Palmer’s bill also was strongly opposed by Senate Judiciary Chair Patti Anne Lodge, R-Huston, who said if the measure made it to the Senate side, she wouldn’t give it a hearing in her committee. Lodge said this morning that she’s talked with inmates working through the state’s agriculture program at a fruit ranch in her district, and found that it was really helping them transform their lives. “Some of these guys I’ve talked to, they’ve never had to get up in the morning to do anything,” she said.
Lodge said she’d like to see more education and job-skills programs for Idaho prison inmates so they’ll get jobs when they’re released. She sponsored legislation this year to expand the agriculture program to include a wide array of additional ag-related businesses, from logging to beekeeping to viticulture. But the House amended the bill to require the ag employers to offer worker’s compensation for the inmate workers; Lodge said that didn’t work legally, because state prison inmates can’t be employees of a private outside company, so the Senate didn’t concur with the House amendments and that bill died.