BOISE – A bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced legislation Monday designed to let Idaho judges waive mandatory minimum sentences for some drug offenders if the crime stems from addiction that could be treated.
“There are some people we don’t need to throw the book at,” said state Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol. “They’re not really criminals, they’re people with a problem. We want to help them solve the problem.”
Hart joined state Reps. Lynn Luker, R-Boise; Raul Labrador, R-Eagle; and Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise; to introduce the bill, which the House Judiciary Committee agreed to hear. But it may run into trouble if it makes it to the Senate, where Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Denton Darrington, R-Declo, said, “It’s not going to pass.”
Darrington said Idaho’s mandatory minimum sentences for drug trafficking are designed so “that those people who are into this business that far and are destroying the lives of our youth and our people, are going to go to prison.” He called the new proposal “the first step to break down our sentencing laws.”
Idaho imposes mandatory minimum sentences for possession of certain defined amounts of drugs. Those who possess more than a pound of marijuana, for example, have a mandatory minimum prison sentence of one year for drug trafficking. Those who possess 400 grams or more of methamphetamine have a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison. Manufacturing meth in any amount brings a five-year minimum sentence – a law that Darrington and then-Gov. Dirk Kempthorne championed.
LeFavour, who presented the bill to the committee, said Idaho now has 365 people in prison serving mandatory minimum terms.
Hart said Idaho’s prisons are overcrowded and the state locks up too many non-violent offenders. According to state records, as of October, Idaho’s prisons housed 7,347 inmates, of whom 24.7 percent were serving time for drugs, 5.9 percent for alcohol offenses, and 23.1 percent for property crimes.
“I just think we have too many people incarcerated,” Hart said. “The United States leads the world in terms of how many people we have incarcerated. We need to try to help them, and not incarcerate them.”
LeFavour said the bill would promote public safety. Shorter, treatment-focused sentences are more likely to help addicts reform than multi-year prison terms, she said.
The measure leaves the option of a shorter, treatment-focused sentence up to the sentencing judge.
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