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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Eye On Boise

Justice Reinvestment showing results in Idaho, though some questions remain

Today’s Idaho Press-Tribune takes a look at progress under Idaho’s “Justice Reinvestment” initiative, which passed in 2014 and sought to reduce lengthy incarceration of non-violent offenders, reserve prison cells for the most violent and reform Idaho’s probation and parole system to try to end a “revolving door” of recidivism that saw inmates returning to prison again and again.

With the assistance of the Council of State Governments and the Pew Trusts, the project analyzed Idaho’s system, which had 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.

Two years in, the state’s prison population has dropped as a result, reports Press-Tribune reporter Ruth Brown, allowing closure of a dangerous overflow housing facility in a former warehouse at one state prison and allowing the state to bring back 173 overflow inmates who had been housed out of state. Taxpayers have saved millions. The number of people in prison for property and drug offenses has dropped, and more inmates have been released onto parole for non-violent crimes, 400 in the last six months.

But Brown reports that state Corrections Director Kevin Kempf isn’t ready to celebrate just yet. That’s because most of those 400 inmates were drug and property offenders, and they have the highest rate of recidivism. “Someone with a drug addiction, it’s very difficult to keep them drug-free,” Kempf said. “We are unfortunately going to experience some relapse, some recidivism because we have more property and drug offenders on parole.” The report also examines some hiccups as the reforms have taken effect, including concern from the Commission for Pardons and Parole about its discretion in imposing sanctions on violators; Brown’s full report is online here.

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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