A new investigative report from the Idaho Legislature says that the Idaho Commission of Pardons and Parole (ICPP) should improve its training, communication, and work environment to help release more offenders eligible for parole. Avoidable delays in parole releases cost the state $6.7 million from January 2007 to September 2009, according a report from the legislative Office of Performance Evaluations (OPE). The report also suggests that lawmakers look at making the parole commission an independent state agency, instead of part of the Idaho Department of Correction (IDOC).
The ICPP makes decisions on when Idaho inmates can be granted parole – the corrections department has no control over the entry and exit of offenders for parole. The five parole commissioners either grant or deny parole during hearings, which usually occur six months before an offender’s parole date. More than 2,300 hearings were held for offenders in 2008. If they grant an early release, ICPP hearing officers work with IDOC case managers and parole officers to make sure offenders finish required education and planning programs, which include listing where they will work and live when released from prison. That planning must be finished before an offender is released. The $6.7 million the OPE report identified in spending on delayed parole releases came mostly from offenders not finishing their planning on time. The report said better communication between ICPP and IDOC staff dealing with offenders’ planning could lead to more timely releases.
Parole commissioner Mark Funaiole of Boise said the speed of releasing offenders shouldn’t be the only way to judge the ICPP. “I just don’t think that efficiencies in looking at how quickly we can process an offender through prison… is where we want to concentrate,” he said. “I don’t think it’s an effective measure.” Rather than looking at the timeliness of parole releases, Funaiole said it’s important to look at other goals of parole, like public safety and recidivism, which is whether offenders commit crimes after their release. Gov. Butch Otter made a similar statement in a written response to the report.
Sen. Elliot Werk, D-Boise, sits on the panel of lawmakers that requested the review of IPCC and said there would be no safety concerns by prudently releasing offenders approved for parole more efficiently. He said that, given Idaho’s current economic situation, the parole process should follow some of the report’s suggestions for streamlining. “Corrections is eating up a bigger piece of the budget,” he said. “We don’t have enough money to go around.” He added that it is probably too late in the legislative session for any statutory changes to IPCC, but that the report and a follow-up due in six months could lead to action next year. The OPE released a report on state prisons Jan. 26 that has yet to see any substantive policy changes.
Other recommendations for IPCC in the report that Werk called “extremely meaty” include creating manuals and checklists for more standard parole reports, improving staff’s technology training, including bolstering typing and data management skills, and creating a better worker grievance process to ensure fair treatment of staff. In the OPE report, investigators found through interviews with parole staff that 40 percent of employees raised concerns about the work environment, with some fearing retaliation from their superiors, including executive director Olivia Craven. OPE director Rakesh Mohan said the recommendations on the parole commission’s work environment were the hardest he’s had to write in his seven years on the job, but said the issues he heard from parole staff were extremely serious.
Otter’s written response to the report said that section of the report strayed from objective analysis. “I believe the report makes an unprecedented and troubling departure from evaluating the parole process to passing judgment on management and staff personalities,” he wrote. In her written response, Craven said that IPCC will work with the state Division of Human Resources on work environment issues and will start mandatory word processing classes for staff.
Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, who is also on the panel that called for the report, said many of the recommendations were good, but it will be hard to implement some of them without additional funding, which can’t be found in the state budget right now. “No matter how hard you work, there’ll be nothing more to help you for some time,” she said. “There’s not too much that we can do to help, but there is a blueprint now.” ICPP