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Idaho prisons halt treatment program that actually was leading to more recidivism

Idaho state prisons chief Kevin Kempf has immediately halted all “therapeutic community” programs in Idaho prisons, after an assessment by the Council of State Governments Justice Center found that offenders who go through the programs actually are slightly more likely to re-offend, the AP reports. Inmates who are in therapeutic communities have a 28 percent recidivism rate, compared to a rate of 23 percent for other inmates.

"We have been wringing our hands over what to do with the TCs," Kempf told AP reporter Rebecca Boone. "We know it's going to make some judges mad and we know it's going to make some people mad. But why would we keep putting our money into something that isn't working?"

The inmates currently in therapeutic community units will still take part in treatment programs, but they will be more like the programs given to general population inmates, without the rigid and often confrontational community structure used in the TCs. Kempf said the switch won't change the length of an inmate's sentence. Both inmates and judges were notified of the changes on Thursday, Boone reported.

Bree Derrick of the Council of State Governments Justice Center, who led the assessment, told the AP, "The way that therapeutic communities are running here are ineffective. It's a bit of a shaming culture, and the research shows, we know, that's just not effective at all."

She commended the Idaho Department of Correction for seeking out the assessment and being open to change. The assessment found that Idaho’s prisons are doing a good job of selecting which inmates need low, moderate or intensive programming. It also found the workers providing the programs are performing well and care deeply about the work. You can read Boone’s full article here.

Idaho prisons to revamp treatment programs

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho is eliminating one prison treatment program and will be revamping several others after an in-depth assessment showed that some were ineffective and many relied on outdated research. Idaho Department of Correction Director Kevin Kempf announced Thursday that all prison "therapeutic community" programs would be halted immediately, and that other prison programs would likely be replaced in the coming months. The changes are in response to a new in-depth assessment by the Council of State Governments Justice Center, which found that offenders who go through the therapeutic community programs are actually more likely to re-offend than those who go through other types of prison programs. Kempf said the inmates currently in therapeutic community units would still take part in treatment programs, but that they would be more like the programs given to general population inmates.

Pew: States that put more people in prison actually cut crime less than states that didn’t…

A new analysis from the Pew Charitable Trusts shows that states like Idaho, which sharply increased its incarceration rate between 1994 and 2012, had no greater drop in crime than states like New York, which sharply cut its incarceration rate during the same time period. “States that decreased their imprisonment rates cut crime more than states that increased imprisonment,” the Pew Trusts reported.

New York’s incarceration rate fell 24 percent from 1994 to 2012; its crime rate fell 54 percent.

Idaho’s incarceration rate increased 103 percent during that same time period; its crime rate fell 46 percent. Idaho saw the third-highest increase in incarceration rates in the nation during that time, exceeded only by North Dakota and West Virginia. New York had the biggest drop in incarceration rates, and tied with Florida for the biggest drop in crime rates.

“Despite the conventional wisdom, states are showing that it is possible to cut incarceration rates without comprising public safety,” said Adam Gelb, director of Pew’s Public Safety Performance Project. The project looked at changes since the 1994 Violent Crime and Law Enforcement Act, which led to large increases in imprisonment.

“The crime bill paid billions for new prisons but with nearly 1 in 100 American adults behind bars, we’ve reached a point of diminishing returns,” Gelb said. “There’s now broad bipartisan consensus behind alternatives for lower-level offenders that cost less and do a better job cutting recidivism.” That’s been the focus in Idaho’s new Justice Reinvestment Project, which is seeking to remake Idaho’s justice system to reserve prison space for the most dangerous offenders, find better alternatives for the less-dangerous ones, and reduce rampant recidivism, or repeat offense. That project, backed by all three branches of Idaho’s state government, won legislative approval this past year; it’s aimed at heading off the need to build a big new multimillion-dollar state prison in the next five years.

Pew found that the five states with the largest drops in their incarceration rate saw an average 45 percent drop in crime over the time period. The five states with the largest increases in their incarceration rate saw an average 27 percent drop in crime over that same period. Every state except West Virginia saw drops in crime rates; Pew said leading criminal justice experts say factors other than increasing incarceration – including declining demand for crack cocaine, better policing, technological advances, and reductions in lead exposure – likely contributed to the drop in crime. You can see Pew's 50-state comparison here.

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 spokesman.com.

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

Here’s a link to my full story at spokesman.com 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 spokesman.com.

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.”