BOISE – Idaho’s prison population is down, defying a steep multiyear growth trend and signaling, state officials say, that the state’s new coordinated approach to substance abuse treatment is paying off.
“We were able to change history this year,” Debbie Field, head of Gov. Butch Otter’s Office on Drug Policy, told lawmakers Monday. “We actually entered the year with fewer inmates than we started the (previous) year with.”
The state had 7,290 prison inmates on Jan. 1, down by 82 from the Jan. 1, 2008, figure of 7,372. The inmate population comprises 611 fewer inmates than officials had projected.
Crime numbers have been “relatively flat,” Idaho prisons chief Brent Reinke said, but the state has seen more people complete substance-abuse treatment, more inmates released on parole, fewer probation violations and promising results from specialized drug courts and mental health courts.
“We’re seeing some great things come out of the specialty courts,” Reinke said.
Field pitched the budget request for statewide substance abuse services, which had been estimated to cost Idaho $9.3 million across various agencies including the Department of Health and Welfare, prisons, courts and juvenile corrections. Otter is recommending $7.1 million from a combination of sources.
“Whatever we are given, we’re going to leverage because of this partnership,” Field said. “It’s powerful.”
She told the Legislature’s joint budget committee that the coordinated activities are making a clear difference. The number of patients completing treatment is up 54 percent. Drug and mental health courts have had 425 “graduates,” who have given birth to 34 drug-free babies and shown much-reduced recidivism rates. Drug arrests by the Idaho State Police and other state law-enforcement agencies dropped 14 percent from 2006 to 2008.
Otter wants to draw part of the $7.1 million targeted to substance abuse services from the state’s Millennium Fund, which contains proceeds from a nationwide tobacco settlement.
The governor also wants that fund to be used for the Office of Drug Policy’s requested $475,600 operating budget in a one-time draw.