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Posts tagged: justice reinvestment

Otter endorses justice reinvestment plan, calls it a ‘no-brainer’

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter today applauded the proposals of the state's justice reinvestment project, calling the plan a “no-brainer.” “While our crime rate is among the lowest in the nation, our recidivism rate is increasing,” Otter said. “This framework outlines a variety of sensible changes we can make as a state that will greatly impact both public safety and the amount of taxpayer dollars that go towards corrections. This is simply a no-brainer for me, and I hope the Legislature sees a similar value and acts accordingly.”

The recommendations, already endorsed unanimously by an interim legislative committee, include an array of improvements to treatment, supervision, parole and probation procedures, restitution and data systems over the next five years, along with limiting stays behind bars for non-violent offenders to 100 to 150 percent of their fixed terms; they’re now serving more than 200 percent of their fixed terms on average, and staying behind bars twice as long in Idaho as they do in the rest of the country. Under the plan, they’d get out earlier, but be supervised on parole. The plan estimates that an investment of $33 million in reforms over the next five years will save the state more than $255 million on prison costs.

Click below for Otter’s full statement.

Justice reinvestment interim committee unanimously backs plan

A legislative interim committee has unanimously endorsed a report calling for reforms to Idaho’s criminal justice system designed to address costly flaws in the system that are contributing to extra-long stays behind bars for non-violent offenders and for probation and parole violators. The full report will be presented to the Legislature tomorrow, at a joint meeting of the House and Senate judiciary committees. “We won’t do it today, but we’ll start drafting legislation and get that ready for everyone’s approval at a later date within the next couple-week period of time,” said Sen. Patti Anne Lodge, Senate judiciary chair and co-chair of the joint interim committee with House Judiciary Chairman Rich Wills, R-Glenns Ferry.

With the assistance of the Council of State Governments and the Pew Trusts, the project analyzed Idaho’s system, which has one of the nation’s highest incarceration rates despite the state’s low crime rates. The hope is that a relatively small investment in better offender supervision, treatment and other reforms will result in hundreds of millions in savings in the state’s prison system, and fewer offenders returning to prison again and again.

Non-violent offenders serve twice the time in Idaho, vs. rest of nation

Nonviolent offenders are staying behind bars in Idaho twice as long as they do in the rest of the nation. That’s among the major findings of a nine-month study into how Idaho could spend its money better and get better outcomes from its criminal justice system. Researchers for the Council of State Governments and the Pew Charitable Trusts found that the state has one of the nation’s highest and fastest-growing incarceration rates, despite its low rates of crime. Idaho House Judiciary Chairman Rich Wills, R-Glenns Ferry, a retired state trooper, called the data a “wake-up call.”

The study also showed that Idaho suffers from a “revolving door of recidivism,” driven in part by a system that sends probationers and parolees back to prison – filling 41 percent of the state’s prison beds - without tailoring the penalties to their violations, and pointed to other problems, including delays in parole releases. If the state were to enact a package of reforms, the researchers estimated it could save $255 million on prison costs in five years, while investing just $33 million into better supervision and tracking programs.

“It just doesn’t even make sense that we would not want to go that direction if we possibly can,” Wills said today, urging a joint legislative committee to come together around legislation to be crafted by January to kick off the reforms. You can read my full story here at

Gov: Swelling prisons, dropping crime rates, high recidivism put Idaho at ‘crossroads’

Here’s a link to my full story at on study results released today showing that more than 40 percent of Idaho's prison beds are being taken up by returned probationers and parolees – helping explain why the state’s prison population has jumped by 10 percent in the past five years even as its crime rate, one of the lowest in the nation, has dropped. “Our state is at a crossroads,” Gov. Butch Otter declared, “and we need to choose a path that best protects the public and enables us to be better stewards of tax dollars.”

The study findings, from the Council of State Government’s Justice Center and the Pew Charitable Trusts, were presented to state lawmakers today as part of the criminal justice reinvestment project launched in June by all three branches of Idaho’s state government. A legislative interim committee also heard a presentation from South Dakota officials on their state’s justice reinvestment project; there, state leaders discovered, to their surprise, that 81 percent of their prison inmates were non-violent offenders, incarcerated at great cost. Major reforms followed.

The ‘revolving door’ boosting Idaho’s prison population even as crime rate declines…

After seven months of intensive study of Idaho’s criminal justice system, researchers from the Center for Justice and the Pew Charitable Trusts have found some surprising trends underlying Idaho’s high incarceration rate, though the state has one of the nation’s lowest crime rates: Fully 84 percent of Idaho’s felony offenders are initially sentenced to probation or a short-term prison program followed by release on probation. But within three years, nearly a third of those end up in prison serving full terms instead.

Now, 41 percent of Idaho’s prison beds are taken up by offenders who were released on probation or parole, but sent back to prison for various reasons – far above the rate in other states. In North Carolina, for example, that figure is 21 percent; in Kansas, it’s 33 percent.

The offenders who were sent back to Idaho prisons from either probation or parole in 2012 alone will stay in prison for an average of nearly two more years, and will cost the state $41 million, the researchers found. “There’s a real financial stake,” Mark Pelka, program director at the Justice Center, which is operated by the Council of State Governments, told Idaho lawmakers today.

Rep. Rich Wills, R-Glenns Ferry, Idaho’s House Judiciary Committee chairman and a longtime Idaho State Police officer, said, “I had no idea it was that high. … That’s absolutely staggering when you think about it.”

The answer may include major reforms to Idaho’s supervision systems, so fewer offenders fail those programs and head back to prison, along with more targeted consequences for probationers or parolees who violate rules. “You could spend less on prisons and corrections if you received better outcomes from supervision,” Pelka told the Idaho Legislature’s Justice Reinvestment Interim Committee. “If you can do that right … you will see less cost, you will see less people coming to prison, and you will see less crime.” Still, such changes may require spending up-front, to “kick-start” new, more effective supervision programs, he said.

The researchers also are examining Idaho’s criminal sentencing laws and other factors. The state’s specialty courts, for groups from veterans to substance abusers, drew praise, as did its widespread use of assessment tools to identify offenders’ risk factors and needs.

Lawmakers on the bipartisan legislative committee were struck by the data, which is part of a project launched by all three branches of Idaho’s state government in June; tomorrow, the researchers will meet with a working group including state corrections, judicial and law enforcement officials.

“Given some of our budgeting challenges, it should be of great concern to all of us to find out that it is clear we could be more efficient and save a lot of money,” said Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow. “I’ve always thought that moving toward more community treatment is more cost-effective and more humane. I think this is something we’ve needed to do for a long time.”

Rep. Luke Malek, R-Coeur d’Alene, a former deputy Kootenai County prosecutor, said the “bleak” recidivism figures weren’t surprising to him. If policy changes can “make probation more successful, I’m extremely intrigued,” Malek said. He noted that the project thus far has been devoid of partisanship or “grandstanding,” and said everyone involved shares the same goals. “I’m very hopeful,” he said.

Pelka said, “The very good news is you have a declining crime rate. … Between 2007 and 2011, as your resident population grew, your crime rate decreased. … You’re enjoying one of the lowest crime rates in the country.” Yet, Idaho’s prison population grew 10 percent from 2008 to 2012, and it’s projected to grow another 7.5 percent in the next three years. “When you look at the reason why, you see a revolving door,” Pelka said. “You can begin to bend that curve down if you can improve outcomes for people on supervision.”

Idaho launches criminal justice reform push

Idaho has some of the nation’s lowest crime rates, but its prison population is growing quickly at a time when most states are seeing declines.  So now all three branches of state government in Idaho – from the governor to the Supreme Court to the Legislature – are coming together to launch an intensive new effort to find out what’s going wrong and fix it, with the help of grant funding and aid from the Pew Charitable Trusts, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance, and the Council of State Governments’ Justice Center; you can read my full story here at

The state qualified for more than a quarter-million dollars in grant funding for the effort, which Gov. Butch Otter unveiled at a news conference in his office today, joined by Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Burdick, legislative leaders, top officials from an array of state agencies and representatives of Pew and CSG.     “Criminal justice is taking a larger and larger share of our state budget every year,” Otter said. And despite Idaho’s low crime rates, one of every 34 males is involved in the criminal justice system and one of every 156 females, he said. Plus, 51 percent of those in Idaho’s prisons are repeat offenders. “So what are we not doing while we have them, to prepare them for a life outside of the correctional environment that they end up in?” Otter asked. “What more can we do?”

Other states including Texas, Kansas, South Carolina and more have worked with the same partners on the “justice reinvestment” approach, which involves intensive analysis of data, developing policy options, putting new strategies in place and measuring results. Some states have seen impressive results. Texas estimated that it averted $340 million in operational costs and $1.5 billion in prison construction costs. South Carolina was expecting an increase of 3,000 prison inmates in 2010 and $300 million in increased costs; instead, its prison population dropped.

“We’re going to use every tool we possibly can,” Otter said. That could include changes in sentencing, treatment, education, rehabilitation and more. A broad, multi-agency working group started meeting on the project today, and a legislative interim committee is holding its first meeting this afternoon, chaired by the House and Senate judiciary chairmen, Sen. Patti Anne Lodge, R-Huston, and Rep. Rich Wills, R-Glenns Ferry. The aim is to develop solutions as soon as possible, including some that could be considered in the legislative session that starts in January of 2014.

Wills, a retired state trooper, said, “It’s going to be a great opportunity for us to bite the bullet, to save money, and to prepare our citizens that need it, that are housed behind those walls, to get out and do something constructive rather than destructive as we’ve seen in the past.”

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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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