Newsletter: March 2, 2014

March 3, 2014

Senate bill S1357 may be the most important piece of legislation to pass the legislature in 2014. S1357 is named the Justice Reinvestment Act, and it passed the Senate unanimously this past week. It is anticipated the House will pass the legislation and the Governor will sign it into law. The Act is designed increase public safety and to contain the ever increasing cost of corrections.

Between 2008 and 2013, prison population increased 10 percent. In the next 5 years prison population is projected to increase by 16 percent. S1357 is estimated to avert nearly all the projected growth. In so doing, is could potentially save Idaho up to $288 million by 2019.

The bill addresses three challenges facing our prison system: a revolving door of recidivism (which means parolees or probationers fail in our communities and are sent back to prison), inefficient use of prison space, and insufficient oversight and training of individuals and officers tasked with overseeing probation.

The bill accomplishes public safety and cost containment objectives in three ways. It strengthens probation and parole supervision programs, structures parole to prioritize prison space for violent offenders and to focus resources in the community on reducing recidivism. Additionally, the bill provides for evaluation of programs and provides for improved risk assessments of prisoners to ensure taxpayer dollars are used wisely.

Over the last year, a legislative Justice Reinvestment Task Force has studied, researched, and found solutions. The legislative task force recommended significant changes to our prison/parole/probation system. Funding will be provided to increase the number of probation officers and provide for a higher level of training. The task force found that probation officers in many instances are spread too thin and their caseload is too heavy.

Another problem the task force found and the bill addresses deals with prisoner rehabilitation. Too often, when prisoner sentences are completed, the prisoners have not been provided the needed programs and training to prepare them for release. S1357 directs the Department of Corrections to promulgate rules that create cost efficient programs to prepare prisoners for parole.

Next, Parole Commission is directed to establish guidelines for reducing the average percentage of time in prison beyond the fixed term for people sentenced for property and drug offenses. With proper teaching and preparation, we can work towards quicker release of people guilty of property and drug offenses, thus ensuring that our prison system has room for dangerous inmates like rapists and murderers.

Lastly, S1357 increases accountability to the legislature from corrections agencies. The Dept. of Corrections, the Parole Board, and Probation will be required to submit reports to the legislature to demonstrate they are becoming more efficient, providing better programming, and are more fully preparing prisoners for release at the appropriate time. This multi-tiered approach will ultimately cause a reduction of the rate of growth of our prison population, improve the success rate of prisoner re-integration into society, and provide improved transparency and accountability of corrections to the taxpayer.

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