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Eye On Boise

Prisons: Spending less now…

Questions from JFAC members for state Corrections Director Brent Reinke included whether it'd be helpful if Idaho set up some kind of early-release mechanism for prisoners now. Reinke said the department has been evaluating "what good time might look like in Idaho," referring to time off for good behavior - something Idaho hasn't had in decades. "I think it would be a challenge getting it adopted," he said. Reinke said the measures the state's already taking - problem-solving courts, developing alternatives to incarceration, treatment programs, and a "violation matrix" - offer better hope of results. "We have really seen a significant reduction," he said. "We're a thousand inmates below where we thought we'd be in 2008." This year, Idaho is spending $21 million less on its prisons than 2008 forecasts showed would be needed by now, Reinke noted.

Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, asked about the costs of Idaho's death penalty, and the inmates now housed on Death Row. "That population doesn't cost us any more than any other population," Reinke responded; the department spends about $57.44 a day to house an inmate. "The problem for us is the appeals process." An actual execution would carry some costs, he noted. "But is it costly for us on a day-to-day basis? It's not. ... The true expense is with the attorneys and the process outside of our prisons."

The department has a privately-built, privately-run Correctional Alternative Placement Program facility scheduled to open in June, which will have 432 beds and offer a residential substance abuse treatment programs of 90, 120 and 270 days. Reinke estimates the treatment programs will save the state $8 million by 2013 in reduced regular prison stays. Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, asked if the state could save money by delaying the opening. Reinke said the department is counting on the new facility; a temporary facility housing 200 inmates in a former warehouse - in which there was a riot last January - closes in June and becomes a warehouse again. The department also has closed 150 of its costliest beds at existing state prisons this year because of the funding crunch. "The CAPP facility is about meeting those bed needs with our growth rate currently at 4 percent," Reinke responded. Without it, he said, the state likely would have to start sending inmates out of state again before the end of fiscal year 2011.

He told reporters after the budget hearing, "The governor has made it very clear in his recommendation that he wants to support CAPP." Private contracts, including the CAPP facility, are the only increases in the governor's proposed prison budget for next year, Reinke said. "We're continuing our furloughs into 2011," he said. "The difference in CAPP is that it's going to help bring our population down. It's well worth the investment."

Idaho has only one correctional officer for every 50 adult inmates, Reinke noted. Every corrections employee - including him - is taking unpaid furloughs due to budget cuts. Correctional officers are taking 28 unpaid furlough hours for the year.

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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