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Posts tagged: prison population

Judges fear IDOC using probation to manage budget

Idaho judges are raising concerns that the state Department of Correction is pressing to inappropriately release some offenders on probation to ease a swelling prison population, the Idaho Statesman newspaper reported Sunday in a front-page article by reporter Dan Popkey. At issue is the state's “rider” program, in which judges can retain jurisdiction over offenders while they undergo an intensive program for 90 to 180 days, after which the judge can decide whether to release them on probation, or release jurisdiction and send them to prison for their full sentences, based on how they fare in the program. Fourth District Judge Mike Wetherell is raising the alarm, as is 4th District Judge Cheri Copsey. In a letter to the heads of the House and Senate judiciary committees and IDOC chief Brent Reinke, Wetherell wrote, “I believe the problem could in the future, if it has not already, create serious public sfety concerns.”

Wetherell noted a case in which an IDOC employee recommended probation for a sex offender, telling the court, “We're out of space in the prison and they want us to be very judicious in who we recommend,” Popkey reported. Two weeks after Wetherell sent that offender back to prison, Copsey rejected a probation recommendation from another offender and attached the 82-page transcript of Wetherell's earlier sentencing hearing. Wetherell said in the hearing that he objected to “a system in which pressure is placed upon employees,” and said, “It is their obligation to say we would like to recommend incarceration in this case, but budgetary constraints prohibit us from doing so. That's called honesty.”

You can read Popkey's full report here; click below for a shorter version of the story via the Associated Press. IDOC denies that it's pressuring employees to release offenders on probation who shouldn't be released, and said the employees must have misunderstood. In a sidebar, Popkey reports that another Idaho judge is raising concerns that IDOC's medical services contractor is skimping on prescription medications for inmates in the rider program, causing them psychological and medical problems that then lead to them failing the rider and being sent to prison for their full terms.

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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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