The Idaho State Senate on a 35-0 vote has passed legislation to significantly change the state’s criminal sentencing and incarceration procedures and processes.
“Idaho’s crime rate is among the lowest in the nation, but our recidivism rate is above the national average,” Sen. Patti Anne Lodge, R-Huston, explained to Senate colleagues. “This legislation is a consensus bill. All three branches of our government were involved in formulating it.”
Lodge told Senate members that the bill would reduce the state’s prison population and lower the recidivism rate, while better enabling lawbreakers to be rehabilitated and to become productive members of society.
Sen. Jim Patrick, R-Twin Falls, stated to Lodge during floor discussion “I’m a bit suspicious about this because I see that U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is supportive of this. Were there federal funds behind this study?”
“He is late to the debate and we are ahead of it,” Lodge replied, adding “no federal funds were used in the study, they were all privately donated funds.”
Last year Lodge co-chaired an interim legislative committee that was established for the purpose of conducting a complete study of Idaho’s criminal justice system. Idaho was among several states awarded the opportunity to have the nonprofit Council of State Governments (CSG) conduct a thorough examination of its prison system through a grant provided by the Pew Research Foundation in Washington, D.C.
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,” a definition that Lodge used when presenting the bill today.
Noting the research findings, Lodge said that Idaho’s criminal justice and prison system suffers with a “revolving door” with prison supervisory programs, an inefficient use of prison space and a lack of oversight.
Sen. Les Bock, D-Boise, was quick to thank Lodge for her efforts with the interim committee and with crafting the legislation. “I want to acknowledge how diligent and dedicated she is in bringing this bill forward. I hope this is just a step towards reducing our prison population. What we really need to be doing is putting some of the money we spend on prisons in to public schools and health care.”
Sen. Steve Vick, R-Dalton Gardens, also praised both Lodge and the bill. “I, too, want to thank the good senator for bringing this forward.” Noting that the bill entails what he referred to as “the 3 R’s”—responsibility, restitution and restoration—he surmised how portions of the bill might be administered in the future. “There is an emphasis on treatment programs in this bill and that is important because these people need to be restored. This bill allows private contractors and faith-based groups to provide that treatment and it requires them to be evaluated regularly.”
Last December, and again earlier this month, Marc Pelka of the CSG spoke to members of both Idaho’s House and Senate about the findings of his organization’s research on the Idaho prison system. “Idaho has the eighth-highest rate of incarceration in the nation. Idaho is a low crime state, but your recidivism rate is quite high.”
Senate Bill 1357 now goes to the House for consideration.
Note: The Idaho Freedom Foundation, which publishes IdahoReporter.com, and the Idaho ACLU were involved in crafting Senate Bill 1357.