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Eye On Boise

Want to save $5M in prisons? Would need to release 250 inmates…

Idaho state prisons chief Brent Reinke tells the Legislature's joint budget committee on Friday morning that he can make cuts proposed by Gov. Butch Otter for next year, but any deeper cuts will require releasing inmates - something he can't do without direction from lawmakers. (Betsy Russell)
Idaho state prisons chief Brent Reinke tells the Legislature's joint budget committee on Friday morning that he can make cuts proposed by Gov. Butch Otter for next year, but any deeper cuts will require releasing inmates - something he can't do without direction from lawmakers. (Betsy Russell)

If Idaho had to cut another $5 million from its state prisons budget, state Corrections Director Brent Reinke told JFAC this morning, it'd have to release about 250 inmates. Legally, the department can't do that on its own, he noted; it'd take direction from the state Legislature. Already, due to budget cuts, the department has imposed 80,000 unpaid furlough hors on employees, is holding open 49 positions, has cut another 44, and has eliminated paid overtime. "I think it's my duty to remind you, these kinds of cuts are not sustainable as we look into the future," Reinke warned. "We walk a fine line between efficient and ineffective government. ... We simply cannot continue to do more with less, we must do less if more budget cuts are required."

However, he said the system can function with the governor's proposed budget, which includes a $2 million transfer from the budget stabilization fund for critical personnel costs. "The governor understands very clearly the challenges we face," Reinke said. "We can make cuts required in the fiscal year 2011 budget proposal as proposed. It's not going to be easy, but we can do it without jeopardizing our staff, the public and our inmates." Yet, he said, inmate population is beginning to grow again after a couple of years' drop, and a recent performance evaluation of the department suggested the prisons are understaffed as is. "We walk a very fine line," Reinke said. "Are we at risk? Every day. But we've been that way for quite a while." The governor's budget calls for a 4.4 percent increase in state funding for prisons next year, after an 8.8 percent cut last year. That still leaves the department trying to house and supervise more offenders with less money than in 2008.



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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