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Senate committee advances criminal justice reform legislation

Senate committee advances criminal justice reform legislation

Idaho Freedom Foundation staff
February 11, 2014
[post_thumbnail] Sen. Patti Ann Lodge, R-Huston, is chair of the Senate Judiciary and Rules Committee.

The Senate Judiciary and Rules Committee on a voice vote has advanced legislation that, according to the committee chair, Sen. Patti Ann Lodge, R-Huston, will significantly change the state’s criminal sentencing and incarceration procedures and processes.

The committee next meets on Wednesday at 1:30 in Room WW 54 for consideration of the bill.

Last year the House and the Senate created an interim committee that spent much of the year conducting a thorough study of Idaho’s criminal justice system. Idaho was also among several states awarded the opportunity to have the Council of State Governments (CSG) conduct its own statewide prison system study last year, an effort funded through a grant from the Pew Research Foundation in Washington, D.C.

Lodge served as co-chair of that interim committee last year along with Rep. Rich Wills, R- Glenns Ferry. She said that the work that went into last year’s study efforts has helped to shape the legislation she has introduced Monday. “A lot of dedicated people worked tirelessly on this.”

“I have not seen the precise contents of this bill and I’m eager to read through it,” said Monica Hopkins, director of the Idaho ACLU. Hopkins was on hand at the committee hearing and spoke with IdahoReporter.com. “I am certainly very familiar with much of the research conducted on the issue of criminal justice in our state, and I’m hopeful that we will move in a productive direction with reforms, but we’ll have to wait and see.”

The CSG defines “justice reinvestment” as a “data-driven approach to improve public safety, reduce corrections and related criminal justice spending and reinvest savings in strategies that can decrease crime and strengthen neighborhoods.” The interim committee met last December to review detailed research that the CSG compiled about Idaho’s prison populations and recidivism rates.

Mark Pelka, program director of the CSG, told the interim committee at that time that while Idaho has relatively low rates of crime, the state’s incarceration rates are nonetheless relatively high. “You have a very fine justice system in your state,” Pelka said. “You are already investing a lot of resources into your system and in many ways it is a very enviable system.”

Even so, Pelka explained that there is room for improvement in Idaho, and that his organization’s recommendations could help lower recidivism rates, avert prison growth, hold offenders accountable for their crimes and increase public safety.

Earlier this year Mark Levin, an attorney and director of the Center for Effective Justice at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, spoke before a luncheon of both House and Senate members and offered his own recommendations for how Idaho can reduce the amount of money spent on incarcerating nonviolent offenders. The luncheon was held jointly by the Idaho Freedom Foundation and the Idaho Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

According to Levin, drug offenders in the Gem State spend, on average, 4.1 years in prison, compared with 2.2 years nationally. He told IdahoReporter.com that because many offenders spend their entire sentence behind bars, they go without monitoring following release and “are not held accountable.”

Note: IdahoReporter.com is published by the Idaho Freedom Foundation.

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