Idaho’s top prison officials are looking for ways to move more inmates out onto parole and to more cheaply house those still in prison.
“If there are some alternatives that we can get people out or get them out more efficiently, we ought to discuss them,” Corrections Board Chairman John Hayden said Thursday.
A day earlier, Hayden and eight other key officials in the state’s criminal justice system met with Gov. Phil Batt as he tries to check the growth of the state’s prisons budget.
Batt, who hopes his legacy is an end of diverting money from schools to prisons, said he was considering all the suggestions that group offered and will have a report before month’s end.
Hayden, at the Board of Correction’s meeting Thursday, said he’d like to explore increased use of work centers. The board also is looking at proposals to expand electronic monitoring and set up a special minimum-security center for parole violators.
The most recent forecast indicates that the $69 million general tax budget the prison system has for this spending year nearly 10 percent more than the previous year will fall nearly $9 million short of the cash needed to keep all Idaho’s 4,100 inmates behind bars.
Within two weeks, the number of inmates held in county jails or out-of-state prisons for lack of space in Idaho prisons will climb to more than 1,000 - about a quarter of the inmate count. That will cost taxpayers nearly $15 million over the coming 12 months.
The next cell increase is next March with the opening of a 536-bed addition at the main prison and a 76-bed work center. Officials say those beds will fill immediately.
The state also is seeking bids for a privately run 1,250-bed prison, but it would not open before 1999.
But corrections officials suggested even more must be done to regain control of a prison population that has jumped 58 percent in the last 42 months and is still rising an average of 40 inmates a month.
With legislative authorization for a private prison, the board appeared enthusiastic about extending the concept to work release centers.
Five are strung across the southern part of the state now, a decade in the making because of the $1.2 million upfront construction cost for each. But corrections officials believe contracting for those centers on a per-day-per-inmate cost basis could provide new centers in as many as eight communities over the next two years.
In addition to providing a substantive increase in in-state beds for inmates, those contract centers could provide a halfway house-type setting. Members of the Commission on Pardons and Parole say that could open up parole for inmates who have the potential for success but only if they have some transition place between prison and complete re-entry to society.
The board also directed prison officials to develop policies - and legislation if needed - that would allow intermediate steps short of a complete return to prison for parole violators.
“That will free up beds and do it fairly quickly,” Hayden said.
In a bid to hold the line on prison spending that has been eating away at state support for education and other programs, the board and department officials are also looking at:
Expanding electronic monitoring from 90 to 225 offenders.
Creating a special minimum-security center for parole violators that provides them with short-term counseling and educational programs that can quickly stabilize them so they can resume parole. The same concept could be used for drunken drivers, officials said.
, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: BURSTING AT THE BARS Idaho now has 4,100 inmates behind bars. Within two weeks, the number of inmates held in county jails or out-of-state prisons for lack of space in Idaho prisons will climb to more than 1,000. The prison population has jumped 58 percent in the past 42 months and still is rising an average of 40 inmates a month.