Gov. Phil Batt’s plan to rein in spiraling prison costs is a good first step, says an expert on Idaho’s prisons.
But Batt should go one step further and create a panel to develop a broader strategy to control prison growth, Boise State University Criminal Justice Department Chairman Robert Marsh says.
“In our society, we have adopted a media-generated view of crime, and that media-generated view is from the increasing number of stories in the television and national news,” said Marsh, who served on former Gov. Cecil Andrus’ Incarceration Work Group.
“We have to combat that constant barrage of media images that we have as well as balance some of the political aspirations of various people. It is good politics to be tough on crime and better politics, in my opinion, to be tough on the right types of crime. The concept of crime is too broad a brush to single out one type of response.”
Michael Jones of the National Council on Crime and Delinquency also recommended the state form a coordinating committee.
“If possible, this group should be established in law, and the state may wish to establish a permanent agency with a mandate to coordinate and oversee implementation of criminal justice policy,” Jones wrote in a July 8 memo to Idaho Supreme Court Justice Charles McDevitt.
Batt called for reducing the crimes of driving without privileges and writing bad checks under $50 from felonies to misdemeanors. The Commission on Pardons and Parole would be able to release eligible inmates regardless of job prospects or family situations.
Batt also suggested reducing the period for completing the state’s successful prison boot camp program at Cottonwood from six to four months. Fines would be increased and the monetary cutoff between felony and misdemeanor for crimes like grand theft to more realistically reflect today’s economy.
Batt’s spokesman, Frank Lockwood, said the governor has not ruled out such a commission. Batt will make the reports of the National Council and the Seattle-based consulting firm of Christopher Murray & Associates available to lawmakers, Lockwood said.
Batt estimates his plan could reduce the inmate population by up to several hundred a year and save up to $10 million.
Marsh contends the Legislature should require an impact statement to accompany each criminal justice bill, so it knows the cost during the next five to 20 years.
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