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Idaho Senate panel introduces justice-system overhaul

Idaho aims to slow prison growth and save $288 million over five years with a justice-system overhaul meant to help nonviolent offenders complete parole and probation successfully, keeping them from being warehoused behind bars.

The measure, slated to cost $2.3 million initially, was introduced Wednesday in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

It aims to strengthen supervision and reduce recidivism.

Power County Sheriff Jim Jeffries is just one out of 44 Idaho sheriffs who support these proposed changes to revamp the criminal justice system under the 23-page Justice Reinvestment System.

And Jeffries said he’s noticing an increasing incarceration rate across the state.

“With some people, the longer they are incarcerated, the more likely they are to re-offend so this (bill) would take care of that and use the incarceration part of the punishment as sparingly as possible, but just enough to get the job done,” Jeffries said.

Pocatello Women’s Correctional Center Warden Jeff Kirkman said they cannot speak on the issue quite yet and they need to wait until the bill further develops into fruition. But, he said right now, the state prisons are bursting at the seams.

Bannock County Sheriff Lorin Nielsen agreed, saying the state is seeing double the probation rate than any other state.

In fact, state prisons are packed so full, they have to send many of their inmates to county jails, where Jeffries and Nielsen take the helm in housing them.

Jeffries said the bill aims to do a couple of things:

1. It will lessen the terms of probation and improve the felony probation system.

2. It will improve the early probation supervision by focusing the probation officer’s time on people who are more likely to re-offend after they are released.

3. More probation officers will be added.

Jeffries referred to statistics which indicate most offenders commit a new crome within the first two years of their release and at the same time, they are on felony probation for 10 to 15 years, meaning the recidivism rate is high while they are on probation.

So, the sheriffs feel this new bill will reduce the recidivism rate, in turn reducing the crime rate.

“In other states that have already adopted the Justice Reinvestment System, crime rates have decreased,” Jeffries said. “I think they’ll be better prepared for success after they get released.”

Both Jeffries and Nielsen said it costs counties about $101 to house each inmate per day, and the state is compensating less than half of that cost, only offering up to $40 per inmate.

“The less recidivism we have, the less people will be incarcerated, so that will inevitably save taxpayers money in the end,” Jeffries added.

Sen. Patti Anne Lodge, the Republican sponsor, lauded the measure as one of the few times she can recall where “all three branches of government are working together to try and craft something that will help save lives and change lives.”

Here is a copy to the bill, which has been introduced to the Judiciary and Rules Committee on February 11:

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