Idaho’s prison system is switching to a new way of handling state inmates backed up in county jails to avoid putting off their chances at parole.
“This will fill in some really big holes that have been a concern to all of us,” said Olivia Craven, executive director of the state Commission for Pardons and Parole. “It’s going to help the parole process a lot.”
The Spokesman-Review’s recent series, “The Price of Punishment,” highlighted the problem as one of several factors that slow inmates’ progress through prison and out onto parole. Inmates can’t be considered for parole until they arrive at prison. Those who are eligible for parole but are still waiting in county jails for lack of state cell space have been out of luck.
State Corrections Director Jim Spalding told the Board of Correction on Friday that he now plans to ship all new prisoners directly to the state prison complex in Boise for evaluation. The evaluation process, which includes testing inmates, setting their custody level and determining their programming needs in prison, now happens only after permanent state cell space is available for them.
Those with at least three years to serve in prison now will be sent back to jail cells for a one-year period. That would still allow time for them to return to prison for needed help before they become eligible for parole. Spalding said the Correction Department recently surveyed county sheriffs and found that counties have 245 jail beds that they’d like to continue to rent out for state prisoners. Some counties count on the money from those rentals to help fund their jail operations, he said.
There are now 259 state inmates housed in county jails.
The new system will allow more certainty for both the state and counties, Spalding said, on how many state prisoners will be held in jails and for how long.
“That’s a great improvement, I think,” said John Hayden, Board of Correction chairman.
Don Drum, administrator of management services for state prisons, said the new program will mean more transporting of inmates, but it likely won’t mean much additional cost. That’s because the state already is making regular bus runs transporting inmates between prisons and jails.
“We may be putting more people on the bus than we used to,” Drum said. “The cost would be real minimal.”
Drum said the prisons may try to speed up their evaluation process, which now takes about three weeks.
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