Ensuring public safety is one of the most fundamental functions of
government. Several important debates about how best to protect public safety
are occurring in the Legislature this year. The stimulus for these debates, in large
part, is the growing problem of overcrowding in our prisons and the significant
costs that go with it.
In this brief we provide information and perspectives that will help you judge
which proposals you think best promote public safety in Idaho. The brief
particularly examines the most cost effective ways of protecting our safety
given limited resources.
Two fundamental means of protecting public safety are to impose limits on
individuals who have harmed us, our property, or our communities through probation
and parole or through incarceration. At their most effective, these punishments
protect public safety in three ways. First, the threat of punishment deters
individuals from committing crimes in the first place. Second, punishment,
particularly incarceration, keeps individuals from committing more crimes
during the term of their sentence. Third, these punishments are intended to
correct or reform those individuals so that they won’t commit crimes again once
the punishment is over.
Soaring crime rates in the 1960’s and 1970’s produced an increasing emphasis on
incarceration, particularly on its functions of deterrence and restraining
further crime. “Tough on crime” reforms, enacted from the 1970s through the
present, mean that more individuals have been incarcerated or placed on
probation, and that more of these individuals have served longer sentences,
than ever before. In the last 35 years the number of adults in prison in the
U.S. has grown 700%. We now incarcerate more individuals than any other nation
(China, with its vastly larger population, comes in second) and at a higher
rate than any other nation (Russia and Cuba come in second and third).
Idaho has enacted its own tough on crime reforms and our prison population has
grown even faster than the national average with the number of adults in prison
increasing by 700% since 1980. As Governor Otter reported in his state of the
state address, one in 34 Idaho adult males is now in prison or on probation or
Research has confirmed that higher rates of incarceration and longer sentences
have improved public safety. However, research also indicates that the public
safety benefits of increasing incarceration has reached a point of diminishing
returns. While studies
demonstrate that for every 10% increase in incarceration, we’ve realized
between a 2% and 4% decrease in crime, recent research reviews
conclude that “analysts are nearly unanimous in their conclusion that continued
growth in incarceration will prevent considerably fewer, if any, crimes than
past increases did and will cost taxpayers substantially more to achieve."
In spite of evidence of diminishing returns, the prison population in the U.S.
to increase at several times the rate of population growth in coming years. The
incarcerated population is projected to increase even more rapidly in Idaho.
that in the next four years the Idaho prison population will grow by more than
20% even though our overall population will grow by less than 8%. If the prison
population projections are accurate, we will be tied (with Alaska, following
Montana and Arizona) as the state with the third highest incarceration growth
rate in the nation. Idaho’s longstanding trend of rapid growth of prisoners has
recently abated, however. For five months now the prison population in Idaho
has defied projections and has not increased. We’ll discuss the possible
reasons for this later.
Besides tough on crime sentencing and parole practices, at least two additional
factors contribute to projections that Idaho’s prison population will continue
to grow faster than most states. First, our population is growing faster than
the nation at large (7.7% as compared to 4.5%). Second, Idaho, like other
states in the West, Midwest, and South, is experiencing an epidemic of crimes
related to the use of methamphetamine.
The growth of our prison population has also dramatically increased our
corrections costs. In the current year, the state will spend $201 million
dollars from the general fund for adult and juvenile corrections, a 943%
increase over the $19.3 million it spent 20 years ago. If current trends
continue, the day is not far away when the state will spend more on corrections
than on higher education. Nevertheless, the current cost of incarcerating a
prisoner in Idaho is much lower than the national average. At a cost of about
$55 per day, or $20,075 per year, Idaho has the 43rd lowest operating cost in the
With the growth in our prison population we’ve also filled our prisons to
overflowing. Currently, the state incarcerates 494 prisoners out of state,
which costs more than housing them here. Given growth projections, Idaho will
need to incarcerate an increasing number of inmates out of state or invest in
We are at a corrections crossroads. Current overcrowding and projections of a
steadily increasing prison population mean that we must make an immediate
investment in our corrections system. But what investments should we make? One
obvious option is to invest in building more prisons. A recent study projects that
Idaho will need to undertake the construction of an additional 5,560 beds at a
cost of just under $1 billion over the next ten years if we maintain our
current approaches to public safety.
There is a range of other options that emphasize investing in reducing the
number of people who need to be sent to prison. First, by investing in proven
prevention and diversion programs, many suggest, we can provide greater public
safety for less money, not to mention improving the lives and productivity of
those who would otherwise go to prison. Many of the prevention and diversion
efforts most frequently identified address Idaho’s pronounced drug abuse
problems. Between 2002 and 2005, Idaho had the fourth highest rate
of methamphetamine abuse in the nation. Fifty-two percent of Idaho inmates
being released on parole report that their incarceration was the result of
methamphetamine abuse and 85% report that they have some kind of substance
A second option that might reduce the need for new prisons involves increased
emphasis on the corrective or reform functions of incarceration. Effective
programming can have more inmates ready for parole sooner and can reduce the
chances that they’ll be re-arrested and return to prison after they’re
Third, we could change our sentencing and parole practices so that fewer people
are sent to prison and so that those who are sent to prison stay there for a
shorter time. Fourth, there are options for improving the coordination between
parts of the corrections system that might reduce the need for more prisons.
Most who take a serious look at our corrections system agree that the problem
will require investment in all or most of these approaches. But what
combination specifically? In the following pages, we review the options. We
start by examining the options for building more prison capacity.
2 . Prison Construction
Almost everyone agrees that Idaho must invest in building at least some
additional prison capacity. While there is wide consensus that construction is
needed, there is much debate surrounding the details.
Two debates deserve particular attention. The first regards funding, ownership,
and management options. On one end of the range is the option of a prison that
is privately built, owned, and managed from which the state rents beds. On the
other end is an entirely public facility—a prison built, owned, and operated by
Idaho itself. Other options have a private-public mix.
The second debate regards prison capacity. Should construction on 2,000 or more
prison beds start immediately or should we build fewer beds and focus more of
our resources on other approaches to the problem?
In the following discussion we’ll consider construction options that will
shortly come before the Legislature as well as modifications of these options
that have attracted interest. We review these options surrounding private vs.
public prisons and ideal prison capacity with an eye towards which options give
the best public safety return on tax payer dollars.
Private vs. Public Prisons
Corrections Corporation of America
(CCA), the largest corrections management provider in the country, has been
energetically arguing the benefits of a privately-owned and managed
correctional facility. The Governor and Board of Corrections have been
supportive of this approach. Together, CCA, the Governor, and the Board of
Corrections have been pushing legislation that would allow for a
privately-owned and managed correctional facility in Idaho. Currently,
private prisons are prohibited by state law. Supporters have argued that
there are three main benefits to a private prison.
First, they argue that a private company can build a prison of the same quality
more quickly and economically than the state because it is not bound by state
procurement practices and because of other efficiencies of private enterprise.
There is also an economic advantage because with a private prison the state
doesn’t start paying any costs until prisoners are actually housed there.
On the other hand, with a public prison, the state starts incurring expenses as
soon as construction is under way, although the prison may not be ready for
prisoners for three or four years. Since we already have to pay the higher costs
associated with sending almost 500 prisoners out of state, proponents argue,
the increased speed of construction is a major advantage. CCA reports that a
typical prison built by the private sector can be constructed in 12-18 months,
compared to an average of three to four years for publicly built prisons.
Second, private prison supporters argue that this would be an economic boon to
Idaho. A private prison would pay property taxes while a public one would not.
CCA reports that annual property taxes paid by private corrections providers
range from an average of $500,000 to $2 million. It would also provide
more jobs sooner than a public prison would, supporters argue. This is because
for a private prison to be sufficiently attractive economically for its company
to build in Idaho, it would need to be a much larger prison than what is
currently needed by the state. The proposal is for 2,120 beds. Those beds that
weren’t needed for Idaho prisoners would be used by prisoners from other states
until Idaho needed them.
Third, private prison supporters observe that it is difficult to project prison
population growth with certainty. The use of private prisons provides
flexibility for dealing with this uncertainty that is not present when a state
builds its own prisons. Private providers can build capacity for a state
customer’s projected needs and release unused space to a different customer
while maintaining a fully operational facility. This also provides a
stable source of employment for those working at the facility. This
assurance of available capacity is provided without putting the state in a
position of having to pay for beds that it doesn’t need at a given time.
While the Governor, the Corrections Board, and CCA have been strong
supporters of the private prison, this option has generated considerable
opposition from Legislators and many others. Three main arguments are offered
against a private prison.
First, although opponents of private prisons agree that a private party can
build more quickly and efficiently than the state, they argue that in the long
term private prisons are more expensive for Idaho. Just as it makes more
economic sense to buy a home than to rent if you know you’ll be in your home
for a long time, opponents argue, it makes sense for the state to own a
facility that it knows it will need for the 50 to 75 year life of the prison.
The bonds that would be sold to pay for the prison would be paid off after 30
years. Because of inflation and the low interest rates that the state can obtain
because it has the best bond rating available, proponents argue that
significant cost savings are realized long before the bonds are paid off.
The property tax advantage is illusory, opponents also argue, because the
taxes will be passed on to the state in the price to keep prisoners in the
private prison. It's hard to see the advantage, they argue, in using taxpayer
money to pay taxes.
The private prison option is not in the state’s economic interests, opponents
further argue, because there will be strong profit incentives for a private
prison to charge more than would be economical for Idaho to pay. Opponents
point to two facts to support this argument. First, because 42 states pay
more per bed than Idaho, with some like California paying significantly more,
the owner of a private prison will have an economic preference for housing
out-of-state prisoners for whom they can charge more. Second, they point out
that Corrections Corporation of America has, in fact, recently acted on this
preference in Colorado. CCA
requested a rate increase for housing Colorado inmates and has threatened
to remove those inmates from its facilities and fill beds with out of state
inmates if the state doesn’t comply with their request. According to one newspaper
report, the move has been called extortion by both Republican and Democratic
Legislators in Colorado.
Second, opponents argue that importing convicted criminals into the state has
negative consequences. If out-of-state prisoners commit a crime in an Idaho
prison, which is not uncommon, that prisoner becomes Idaho’s responsibility and
the state must assume the costs of prosecuting and incarcerating the prisoner
for that crime. The families and friends of some out-of-state prisoners may
follow them to Idaho, possibly bringing gang or drug activity with them. And
out-of-state prisoners may choose to live in Idaho after their sentence is
Third, opponents argue that there are some functions that are inappropriate
for the government to outsource. When the state chooses to put one of its
citizens behind bars, they argue, it is exercising its police power in one of
its harshest forms. Some argue that this awesome responsibility should not be
intermingled with profit motive and the special interest influence that comes
with it. A review of state records by The Common Interest found that CCA made
$34,000 in donations to candidates in Idaho in the 2006 election, including the
legal limit of $10,000 to Governor Otter. The Geo Group, another private prison
firm lobbying for a private prison, also donated the legal limit of $5,000 for
the general election to Governor Otter. CCA has hired a professional lobbyist
who has actively been making CCA’s case to Legislators and the Governor. CCA’s
lobbyist, who also represents many other clients, donated more than $8,000 in
the 2006 election.
To address the questions about the economic wisdom of private vs. public
prisons, the Idaho Department of Correction (IDOC) has developed estimated cost comparisons.
They confirm that a private prison would be less expensive in the early years
and that a state owned facility would be more economical in the long run. The
first set of estimated cost comparisons that IDOC produced found that in the
first year a 2,120 bed private prison would cost the state $60.5 million if
Idaho prisoners filled all of its beds while it would cost $65.8 million if the
state built and owned the prison. By the second year, the $5.3 million dollar
savings of the private prison is reduced to $2.9 million. By the eighth year,
the public prison becomes slightly less expensive than the private prison. The
cost savings of the public prison over the private prison continue to grow and
then jump substantially in the thirtieth year when the state bonds are retired.
In that year, housing inmates in the private prison would cost $160.4 million
while it would cost $123.9 million to house them in the public prison for a
savings advantage of the public prison of $36.5 million.
IDOC’s estimated cost comparisons have themselves become a matter of
controversy. The Governor’s office argued that different assumptions could
appropriately be used which would suggest a larger and longer lasting cost
savings for a private prison. Specifically, the Governor's office requested
that IDOC produce a second set of
estimated cost comparisons that assumed that for a private prison the cost
of operating the prison would increase after the first year, but not the costs
of the building itself (the first set of comparisons assumed that both the
operation and building costs would go up 3% per year, about the usual rate of
inflation). According to the second set of estimated cost comparisons, instead
of the private prison being $2.9 million less expensive than the public prison
in the second year, it would be $3.3 million less expensive. After that,
instead of finding that the cost advantage of the private prison over the
public prison declines each subsequent year, the second set of comparisons
finds that the cost advantage of the private prison actually increases slightly
each year until the 30th year, the year the bond for the public prison is paid
off. This is because while the second set of comparisons assumes that none of
the costs of the building will go up for the private prison, they assume that
some of the building costs, specifically building insurance, will go up at 3%
per year for the public prison.
The Governor's office argues that the second set of comparisons is relevant and
useful because when it came to negotiating a contract with a private company,
the state could credibly argue that the private company faces the costs of
building the prison up front and that, therefore, the company should not charge
the state increasing amounts each year. Once the company has built the prison,
they argue, it owns it and the costs do not go up for the company and should
not go up for the state. Accordingly, they argue, this second set may better
estimate what the true costs of the private prison would be.
In turn, many argue that the second set of comparisons is unrealistic and
that the first set is more accurate. First, they argue, a private company will
not typically pay cash to build a large prison, but will take out debt to
construct it. Because the state has the best bond rating available and their
bonds get beneficial tax treatment, the state's debt service for building a
prison will be less expensive, not more expensive than a private company's.
Second, critics of the second set of comparisons argue that a private company
is making an enormous capital investment in building a prison and that its aim
in making such a capital investment is to generate profit. The
stockholders of a private company expect to earn a healthy return on their
investment. Critics of the second set of comparisons argue that no private
company would agree to terms that didn't allow the company to realize a return
on its investment beyond the cost of its debt service, particularly when many
other states pay substantially more to house prisoners than Idaho does. They
point to Colorado's current experience with CCA as evidence of this. If
anything, they argue, even the first set underestimates the cost of the private
prison option because it doesn’t factor in a profit margin.
CCA argues that IDOC’s estimated cost comparisons, particularly the first
set, do not fully capture the cost savings of a private prison because they
assume that the state can build a facility at a cost comparable to that of the
private sector. CCA and many others argue, however, that the private
sector can build more quickly and efficiently, for the reasons mentioned above.
CCA also responds to the criticism about their request to increase rates in
Colorado by arguing that a rate increase now is only fair since the rate
Colorado is currently paying is less than what it paid for the same services in
2000. Opponents respond that while this is true, it nevertheless
demonstrates that a private prison puts a state at the mercy of the owner,
given the leverage that they have.
Beyond arguing that a private prison is sufficiently more cost effective for
a sufficiently long time to make it preferable to the higher early costs of a
public prison, the Governor’s staff has argued that the state can build
protections against the Colorado situation into the contract.
With regard to the problems that might come with bringing in out-of-state
prisoners, proponents argue that few friends and family members follow inmates.
They also point out that the state would have a right to reject any
out-of-state prisoner it didn’t want in Idaho because, for example, they were
violent sex offenders or involved in gang activity or drug trafficking. The
state could also require that an out-of-state prisoner be taken back out of
Idaho for some period of time prior to that prisoner’s release.
In response to the criticism that a private prison is an inappropriate
delegation of the state’s police power, proponents argue that the state can
build in whatever level of oversight it wishes. Proponents point to 25
years of experience with private contract providers who now are used at the
federal level and in half of the states. Through that experience, they
argue, it has become clear that private providers can be a reliable and appropriate
part of the country’s corrections system.
Many opponents of privately built, owned, and managed prisons, nevertheless
believe that there are appropriate ways to leverage the unique advantages of
the private sector in this area. For example, many are pleased with the
private/public partnership at the Idaho Correctional Center south of Boise.
This prison is owned by the state, but the state contracted with CCA to build
and operate it. This allowed the state to benefit from the speed and efficiency
of private construction while avoiding the expenses that privately owned
prisons impose on a state in later years. Proponents of this approach also
argue that this leaves the state in control and free to change contractors if
the state is unhappy with the arrangement, rather than being locked in with a
privately owned prison. Another public/private variation would be to have the
state "lease to own" a prison that a private company would build and
Beyond the question of whether new prisons should be public, private, or
involve some sort of public/private partnership is the question of how many new
prisons beds should be added to the system. This debate regarding capacity is
complicated—happily—by the fact that in the last five months our prison
population has held steady despite projected growth of 200 inmates. If this
trend of below-forecasted growth continues, Idaho’s need for prison beds may be
less than experts currently anticipate.
The primary driver for considering building a 2,120 bed facility now is the
interest in a private prison. If the state builds a public prison or enters
into a public/private partnership for a new prison, most suggest that it should
be in the range of 500 – 1,100 beds.
Another alternative would be for the state to undertake the construction of
more beds at existing facilities. For example, this year the Idaho Department
of Corrections (IDOC) and the Governor have requested roughly $5 million in
funding to convert an existing building at the Idaho Correctional Center into a
housing unit of 304 minimum custody beds. Similar expansion could occur at
county facilities. IDOC currently houses a significant number of inmates in
county jails. Many argue that the state should investigate the expansion of
these state-county partnerships in order to house state inmates. Proponents
observe that this would keep inmates nearer the support of their family and
friends. Opponents argue that effective programming isn't available in county
Those who support more modest investments in prison capacity argue that there
is a range of more cost effective ways of enhancing our public safety than
building prisons, such as investing in drug abuse prevention and treatment and
in drug courts. Consequently, they argue, the state would be well advised to
spend less on prisons and apply the savings to these more cost effective
measures. It is particularly important to follow this strategy right now,
proponents argue, because many indicators point to a slowing economy that will
mean tighter revenues over the next few years. Like has happened in the past,
they argue, the money that we commit to prison construction will make it
impossible to invest as fully as is warranted in options that would prevent us
from needing so many prison beds.
Those who support more ambitious investments in prison capacity argue that even
if the state invests in initiatives that may slow the growth of the state’s
prison population, we are already far enough behind that we will still need a
substantial investment in prison capacity. Moreover, they argue, there are
economies of scale in investing in one larger prison right now than in doing it
piecemeal on a smaller scale.
IDOC’s cost comparisons provide some data on these arguments. IDOC’s first set
of comparisons estimated that in the first year the costs of the state owned
1,060 bed facility would be $34.6 million, as opposed to the $65.8 million for
the state built 2,120 bed facility. The $31.2 million savings could be spent on
initiatives to slow the growth of our prison population, but because of
economies of scale, building half the capacity doesn’t cut the costs in half.
It’s clear that whether we build additional prisons using the private or public
options, any significant increase in prison capacity will be expensive. Are
there realistic and practical alternatives to prison construction that would
maintain or even enhance public safety but cost less? We now turn to a review
of the most promising policy options that would slow the growth of the prison
population. First, the brief examines alternatives to incarceration in the form
of prevention and diversion programs. Second, we review options for investing
in programming for offenders to reduce the chances that they’ll be re-arrested and
return to prison after they’re released. Third, we examine possible changes to
our sentencing and parole practices. Finally, we review possible improvements
in the coordination among parts of the correction system.
3. Alternatives to
As the number of prisoners and the costs of incarcerating them have grown
significantly in recent decades, so have the efforts to find cost effective
alternatives. Of course, a broad range of initiatives can affect prison
populations, including programs to improve the economy and the education
system. For purposes of this brief, we have restricted our examination to
programs more specifically aimed at preventing crime or diverting those
convicted of crime into alternatives that are more effective than prison.
empirical evaluations of these efforts nationally have shown that many of
these alternatives have either not been effective at reducing crime or have
cost more than they saved. However, that research has also identified a number
of approaches that are cost effective. These successful programs enhance public
safety as well or better than prisons while costing less. In the following
paragraphs, we review four of the alternatives that empirical
research has found to be the most cost effective.
Preventing and Treating Substance Abuse in the Community
As mentioned previously, 85% of Idaho’s inmates have a drug problem and 52% are
in prison because of methamphetamine use. Not surprisingly, then, considerable
attention has been paid to preventing and treating substance abuse before it
translates into incarceration.
Under the leadership of Governor Otter and Debbie Field in the Office of Drug
Policy, Idaho has recently undertaken an ambitious effort specifically aimed at
preventing the use of methamphetamine. The Idaho Meth Project is patterned on
the Montana project that emphasized
edgy television and radio ads educating young people about the dire
consequences of meth use. The Montana project has shown remarkable results.
During its first two years, Montana went from the state with the fifth highest
rate of meth use to 39th and meth related crime decreased 53%. Governor Otter,
First Lady Lori Otter, and Debbie Field have worked hard to raise donations for
this project so that it does not require state appropriations, giving this
program a taxpayer cost to benefit ratio that is hard to beat.
Once individuals have begun abusing substances, treatment in the community
helps them address the problem before an escalation of abuse or criminal
behaviors mandates incarceration. Nationally, rigorous empirical evaluations
find that the average community-based drug treatment program reduces criminal
activity by 9.3%. Beyond finding that the average drug treatment program is
effective in reducing crime, the research also confirms the cost effectiveness
of these programs. The average drug treatment program costs $574 per person,
but the reduction in crime it produces saves taxpayers an average of $5,495
(including prison costs) and saves crime victims an average of $5,133 for a
total net benefit of $10,054.
Idaho’s ability to realize the benefits of addressing substance abuse problems
increased dramatically in 2005 when we were awarded a three year federal grant
for substance abuse treatment. In the first year, the state spent a little over
$1 million in federal money for drug treatment. In 2006, the state spent $6.6
million. In 2007, the last full year of federal funding, Idaho spent more than
$13 million in federal funds on community-based treatment. At its highest level
that year, the state spent $2 million per month on substance abuse treatment.
Even at that highest level, many people who sought and qualified for treatment
were left on waiting lists. Last year, the Department of Health & Welfare’s
request for 2008 included $6.5 million in state money to round out what was
left of the federal grant. With what remained of the federal grant, this
brought the total funding for substance abuse treatment up to $13.9 million.
This provided for $1.1 million per month in substance abuse treatment, a little
more than half the level of treatment provided at the peak of 2007. Although
the Governor’s budget recommendation did not include that $6.5 million in state
funds, the Legislature nevertheless appropriated it.
While the funding over the last few years significantly increased our effort to
realize the promise of community-based treatment, serious questions arose about
the quality of drug treatment in Idaho and the effectiveness of the state’s
oversight and management of drug treatment. Many agreed that the supply of
treatment providers had been limited in quantity and quality. A formal
evaluation concluded in 2005 confirmed that Idaho’s oversight had been less
than stellar. The evaluation found that, among other things, control and
oversight was fragmented and that insufficient data had been gathered and
analyzed to determine whether our community-based treatment programs and
providers were realizing the full promise suggested by national research.
In addition to providing more state funding for drug treatment, in 2007 the
state took important steps towards providing more oversight of drug treatment
spending and outcomes and to assure reliable and appropriate levels of funding.
Former Governor Risch had earlier established the Office of Drug Policy by
executive order. In 2007, Governor Otter and the Legislature made the Office of
Drug Policy (ODP) permanent as a matter of state law. The same legislation also
established as a matter of state law the Interagency Committee on Substance
Abuse (ICSA). The purpose of ODP and ICSA is to coordinate the state’s responsibility
for measuring and responding to substance abuse. They also gave ODP a strong
leader in Debbie Field, who had gained wide respect on these issues as the
former Chair of the House Judiciary and Rules Committee and who managed
Governor Otter’s campaign. Field was also given the responsibility of chairing
By all accounts, including a follow-up
formal evaluation, ODP and ICSA have done remarkable work. They established
a single substance abuse assessment tool, GAIN, to be used by all agencies
statewide along with a statewide data collection software program, WITS, to be
used in conjunction with this tool. These developments will improve the ability
to measure and track substance abuse treatment programs and their effectiveness
across the state. ODP has requested $67,500 in funding to implement the WITS
system and $102,800 in funding to train substance abuse providers in using the
GAIN assessment tool. By enabling Idaho to measure its experience with specific
drug treatment programs and providers, we can be sure we’re maximizing the
return on our drug treatment dollars. The Governor has recommended full funding
for these measures.
In the last year ICSA has also done unprecedented work in coordinating all
involved state agencies. In particular, based on Idaho's experience with more
funding, they jointly assessed the demand for drug treatment going forward and
concluded that the peak level of about $2 million per month was what was
needed. As a result, ICSA submitted a coordinated request that the current
year’s $13.9 million in substance abuse treatment be increased by $13.5
million. In addition, ICSA requested another $7.4 million for some expansion of
case load, an increase in rates to attract providers to serve rural and
juvenile populations, and an expansion of DUI drug courts, making the total
increase in drug treatment requested by ICSA $20.9 million.
To ICSA's many others' surprise, the Governor did not recommend the requested
$20.9 million increase in drug treatment. The Governor and his staff point to
the lack of evidence that Idaho’s specific drug abuse programs and providers
are effective and so suggest that these programs are not a good investment of
While it’s easy to find people who agree with the Governor’s concerns about the
quality of Idaho’s drug abuse treatment in the past, it’s more difficult to
find people who agree that the right response is to reject the requested
increase. With the impressive progress achieved by ODP and ICSA to address past
problems, they argue, now is not the time to hold back on drug treatment. With
little drug treatment funding, many argue that the funding to establish a
common assessment tool and data collection method will do little good. With
full drug treatment funding and the new assessment capability, however, they
suggest that Idaho can make significant strides toward ensuring that our drug
treatment is as or more effective than the national average. The quality and
number of drug treatment providers will only decline, they contend, if the
request for substance abuse treatment is not funded.
Many Legislators have expressed a strong willingness to provide the funding
that ICSA has requested. However, with declining revenues from an economic
slowdown and an overall budget recommendation from the Governor that has
allocated anticipated revenues elsewhere, there is concern about where to find
the $20.9 million.
The Common Interest’s research on contributing factors to the overcrowding
prison problem suggests a possible source of dedicated funding for the
requested increase in substance abuse treatment. Research indicates that if
Idaho’s tax on beer and wine were raised, the increased cost would reduce
substance abuse and decrease crime. The increased revenue could also be
dedicated to funding substance abuse treatment, thus further reducing crime and
the need for more prisons.
Raising Beer and Wine Tax
research finds that an increase in alcohol taxes leads to a reduction in
crime generally and particularly reduces domestic violence, child abuse, rape,
and underage drinking. Research also confirms that increasing taxes on beer and
wine reduces medical costs imposed on others, alcohol related traffic crashes
and fatalities, and binge drinking and other substance abuse.
Idaho's beer tax is 15 cents per gallon, or 1.4 cents on a 12 oz can.
Nationally, tax on beer averages 26 cents per gallon, or 2.4 cents on a 12 oz
can. Idaho's wine tax is 45 cents per gallon, or 1.8 cents on a 5 oz glass.
Nationally, tax on wine averages 79 cents per gallon, or 3.1 cents on a 5 oz
glass of wine.
The 15 cent per gallon tax on beer was established in 1961 and the 45 cent
per gallon tax on wine was established in 1971. Because the tax is on volume
and not price, the real revenue generated by the beer and wine tax has declined
substantially over the decades since these taxes were established. If the beer
tax was the same in today's dollars that is was in 1961 dollars, it would be
$1.12 per gallon or 10.5 cents on a 12 oz can. In today's dollars, the 1971
wine tax would be $2.70 per gallon or 11 cents on a 5 oz glass of wine.
While our state alcohol taxes are low, the cost of alcohol related social ills
is high. Recent
research indicates that Idaho collects $4.68 in state alcohol tax revenue
per person, but spends $141.76 per person in alcohol related healthcare costs,
not to mention public safety costs. This means that for every $1 in alcohol
taxes Idaho raises, it spends $30.30 to solve the health care problems that
Accordingly, a legislative interim committee recommended in 1999 that work be
undertaken to address “equitable and adequate alcohol beverage tax structures
needed to pay the cost of substance abuse” and Governor Kempthorne’s 2020 Blue
Ribbon Task Force recommended that the state “increase taxes and/or licensing
fees on beer and wine to enhance resource availability to address social and
criminal issues resulting from substance abuse.” Just this January, the Mental
Health Subcommittee of the Health Care Task Force recommended "support for
on-going funding for substance abuse treatment through a beer & wine tax
In spite of so many recommendations to increase the beer and wine tax, it
hasn’t happened. Why? Most people explain decades of failure to raise beer and
wine taxes as a simple matter of powerful special interest influence. In fact,
the 2020 Blue Ribbon Task Force concluded that the only obstacle to
implementation of their recommendation was the fact that “the beverage
distributors lobby will aggressively oppose increased taxes or fees.”
The beer and wine lobby argues that there are more substantive and
compelling reasons to oppose a tax increase. First, they argue that the whole
idea of an excise tax is misguided. For example, just because cars cause
accidents, they argue, doesn't mean that there should be an excise tax on cars.
Second, the beer and wine lobby points out that Idaho has an important and
growing wine industry. By raising wine taxes, they argue, we will hurt an
industry that we should be encouraging. Proponents of raising beer and wine tax
argue that Idaho's wine industry is actually an important argument for raising
the wine tax, so long as it is converted to price. Proponents observe that most
wine produced outside of Idaho is more expensive than that produced in Idaho.
Consequently, they observe, a higher tax on price would produce a bigger
increase in the purchase price of most out-of-state wine, giving Idaho wine a
If beer and wine taxes were to be raised, three different standards could
be used to establish how much to raise them. First, we could raise them to
be the same in real value as they were when they were established. This would
generate $44.4 million in new revenue. This would pay for the $20.9 million
in increased drug treatment requested by ICSA and leave $23.5 million that
could be dedicated toward paying for other public safety costs generated by
alcohol use. Some legislators have suggested raising the beer and wine tax
to this level and using the $23.5 million it would generate beyond the ICSA
request to help fund the court system. Currently, dedicated funding for the
district courts generates $41.5 million annually. But the district courts
cost $70.3 million each year. The $28.8 million difference is borne primarily
by counties relying largely on property tax revenues. Legislators point out
that the costs to a particular county can be highly variable. A large murder
case can run into the millions, swamping a small county's budget. Since the
counties are enforcing state laws, these legislators argue, the state should
bear more of the financial burden for the district court system. Additional
state funding for district courts would have two distinct advantages, they
observe. First, it pools the risk of unanticipated large spikes in court costs
for particularly expensive trials at a state level which is a more prudent
risk management strategy. Second, legislators supporting this idea suggest
that we pay for these costs with beer and wine tax and require that property
taxes be reduced accordingly. Alternatively, the $23.5 million beyond the
ICSA request could be used to fund other investments in prevention, treatment,
diversion, and in-prison programming discussed in this brief that would further
reduce the need for new prison capacity. Some who prefer this alternative
to using the $23.5 million as a matter of policy, still support using it to
pay for district court costs because they recognize that this may be the only
way that this much of a beer and wine tax increase would pass the Legislature.
Given that it hasn't been possible to raise the beer and wine tax for many
decades, some argue, if this is the combination that will work, it should
The second standard that could be used to establish a beer and wine tax
increase would be to raise them enough to pay for the $20.9 million increase in
drug treatment requested by ICSA. This would mean a beer tax of 57 cents per
gallon or 5.4 cents on a 12 oz can. It would mean a wine tax of $1.71 per
gallon or 6.7 cents on a 5 oz glass.
The third standard that could be used is the national averages. Raising
Idaho's beer and wine tax to the national averages would generate $5.6 million
in new revenue, roughly one quarter of ICSA's requested funding.
Of course, the real revenues generated by any of these tax increases would
still decrease over time so long as it remained a tax on volume rather than
price. To address this issue, any of the tax increases described above could be
converted into an equivalent tax on price so that the real value of the tax
would be maintained over time.
If we are unsuccessful in preventing drug abuse or treating it before in leads
to serious crime, drug courts offer an alternative to incarceration for
substance abusers. Drug courts emerged in response to judges’ concerns that the
incarceration of substance abusers was ineffective. Too frequently, substance
abusers serve their time in prison only to be released and re-offend. Now, drug
courts offer treatment and intensive supervision with the prospect of immediate
incarceration if offenders don’t abide closely to the rigorous drug court
regimen. That regimen includes intensive drug treatment and extensive drug
testing to be sure they are no longer abusing. It often includes requirements
for participants to finish their education and/or to find a job. If
participants do successfully complete the strict requirements, the reward is a
has found that the average drug court reduces criminal activity by 8% and does
so in a cost effective way. The average drug court costs about $4,333 per
person, but the reduction in crime it produces saves taxpayers an average of
$4,705 and saves crime victims an average of $4,395 for a total net economic
benefit of roughly $4,800 per participant.
Drug courts are a policy area in which Idaho has been a leader. Our drug courts
programs have, if anything, been even more impressive than in most states.
Idaho drug court graduates get re-arrested at a significantly lower rate (19%)
compared to a similar group not participating in drug courts (37%) thus
generating substantial taxpayer savings. In 2006, Idaho retained 809 felony
defendants through drug courts. At a cost of roughly $6,950 per year for each
individual—as compared to the $20,075 per year cost of incarcerating an
offender—Idaho drug courts saved our state more than $10 million in 2006 alone.
Reflecting this proven effectiveness, Idaho has invested in drug courts. The
state currently has over 50 functioning drug courts. This year ODP has
requested about $2 million in funding for an additional 275 drug court slots
for DUI or misdemeanor offenders and roughly $900,000 in federal funding for
the establishment of two new family drug courts in Pocatello and Boise. The
Governor has recommended funding for the additional 275 drug court slots for
DUI or misdemeanor offenders, including the requisite substance abuse treatment
for these individuals, but has not recommended authorizing the use of federal
funds for the family drug courts. In regards to the family drug courts
slots, the Governor’s staff has argued that authorizing federal funds now would
necessitate the use of state funds to sustain the slots in the future.
Proponents argue that, even so, research demonstrates that this would be
a wise investment.
Proponents of expanding drug court slots argue that the savings to Idaho
taxpayers justify the effort and expense. Opponents argue that, specifically in
the case of those charged with misdemeanor crimes, incarceration is not the
alternative to drug court participation and, therefore, the state doesn’t
realize the same dramatic savings. Proponents, including many judges, counter
that the misdemeanor offenders who would be channeled into drug courts are
repeat offenders whose crimes are already serious and who are on the path
toward a felony conviction and subsequent incarceration unless intervention occurs.
Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy in the Community
Various forms of cognitive behavioral therapy allow those who have been
convicted of a crime and sentenced to probation rather than prison to recognize
that they may lead law-abiding lives by responding to their feelings and
thoughts in more productive, pro-social ways. Research
has found that the average cognitive-behavioral therapy program nationally
reduces re-arrests by 6.3%. Although these programs only cost an average of
$105 per participant the reduction in crime they produce saves taxpayers an
average of $4,746 per participant and saves crime victims an average of $5,658
for a total net economic benefit of roughly $10,299 per participant.
Intensive Supervision: Treatment-Oriented Programs
Treatment-oriented intensive supervision programs are those in which an
individual on probation or parole receives more frequent contact with a
probation or parole officer than usual in conjunction with needed substance
abuse, mental health, or other treatment. Nationally, research
finds that the average treatment-oriented intensive supervision program reduces
re-arrests by an impressive 16.7%. These programs are relatively expensive,
averaging $7,124 per parolee. However, because they reduce re-arrests so
significantly, they generate substantial net savings despite their costs. On
average, these programs save taxpayers $9,369 and crime victims $9,318 for a
total net economic benefit of $11,563 per participant.
4. In-Prison Programming
While alternatives to incarceration are realistic for some offenders, public
safety requires that other offenders be incarcerated. Empirical research has
identified cost-effective corrective programming that can improve public safety
by reducing the rates of re-arrest once an inmate is released.
Staff at IDOC are well-versed in this national research and have worked hard to
develop programs based on it. Past limits in funding for administration and
data gathering have limited IDOC’s ability to test whether their applications
of nationally proven programs are effective but they are currently in the
process of evaluating those programs.
While Idaho offers evidence-based programming, there are still unmet needs. On
any given day, our available in-prison programming meets the needs of only 80%
of the inmates who require programming. Our inability to offer programming to
all inmates in a timely manner has two costly consequences. First, it leaves
the net economic benefit to be derived from re-arrest reducing programming
unrealized. Second, with more programming capacity, more inmates would be
released on parole sooner. Recognizing the high re-arrest rates that occur
without programming, the Parole Board often requires programming to be
completed before they grant parole.
We now review four of the categories of in-prison programming that have proven
to be most effective as well as several specific proposals regarding these
alternatives that will come before the Legislature this year.
Vocational Education in Prison
Vocational education programs offer incarcerated offenders job training that
will enable them to be gainfully employed following release. National research finds
that the average vocational education program in prison reduces re-arrests by
9%. The average cost of these programs is $1,182 per inmate. The reduction in
re-arrests these programs produce save taxpayers an average of $6,806 and crime
victims an average of $8,114 for a total net economic benefit of $13,738 per
participating offender. In fact, in one meta-analysis of 573 rigorous studies
of investments in adult programming that would reduce prison populations, no
single investment generated a greater cost/benefit ratio than in-prison
This year, the Legislature will consider a request for $900,000 from IDOC to
fund the construction of a new 4,000 sq ft vocational education building or the
remodel of an existing building to serve inmates at the Idaho State
Correctional Institution (ISCI) and the South Idaho Correctional Institution
(SICI). The Governor has recommended full funding of this construction.
General Education in Prison
General education programs allow incarcerated offenders who are lacking
education to, first, achieve basic literacy and, second, complete a GED or high
school education equivalent. Nationally, research finds
that the average general education program in prisons reduces re-arrest by 7%.
The average program costs $962 per participant. The resulting reduction in
re-arrests saves taxpayers an average of $5,306 and crime victims $6,325 for a
total net economic benefit of $10,699 per participating offender.
Half of Idaho inmates come into prison without a high school diploma or GED.
IDOC is currently evaluating the effect on re-arrest rates of the general
education programs it provides. IDOC has requested $62,000 to hire an
instructor to offer education services at the St. Anthony Work Camp where there
is currently no funding or staffing for education services. The Governor has
recommended not funding this position.
Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy in Prison
Above we discussed cognitive behavioral therapy in the context of probation.
This same program of teaching offenders to recognize that they may lead
law-abiding lives by responding to their feelings and thoughts in productive,
pro-social ways is also provided in prison programming with similar results. Research finds
that nationally these programs reduce re-arrests by 6.3% and yield a net
economic benefit of $10,299 per participating offender. Currently, IDOC offers
several cognitive-behavioral therapy programs.
Drug Treatment in Prison
Substance abuse treatment in prisons allows individuals with drug and/or
alcohol problems to address those problems while incarcerated in hopes of
promoting productive, law-abiding behavior upon release. Nationally, research finds
that the average in-prison drug treatment program reduces re-arrest by 5.7% and
costs an average of $1,604 per inmate. These programs result in a reduction in
crimes committed after release which save taxpayers an average of $4,306 and
save crime victims an average of $5,133 for a total net benefit of $7,835.
Both IDOC and the Parole Commission have expressed interest in increasing the
state’s therapeutic community drug treatment offerings. In the State of the
State, Governor Otter proposed designating the 304 bed expansion at the ICC a
In coordination with the ODP, IDOC has also requested an increase of $750,000
primarily in other drug treatment programming. The Governor has not recommended
funding this increase in treatment.
Investments in Programming Delivery
IDOC has requested $289,200 to contract for professional services (data entry,
quality assurance, inmate accountability, maintenance) in order to allow
programming staff to focus on program delivery. Similarly, the Parole Commission
has requested $420,600 to contract with private providers to provide required
psychological reports, sex offender assessments, and mental health evaluations
so that the IDOC clinical staff can focus on treatment. The Governor has not
recommended funding these requests.
5. Sentencing & Parole
As mentioned at the beginning of the brief, Idaho responded like most states
to the surge in crime experienced in the 1960s and 1970s by imposing “tough on
crime” sentencing and parole policies that have contributed to the growth of
prison populations. Our tough on crime sentencing falls chiefly into two
categories. As mentioned above, in 1986 Idaho passed the Unified Sentencing
Act, a “truth in sentencing” law that ensures that every inmate serves a fixed
sentence. Second, Idaho punishes about a dozen crimes with mandatory minimum
sentences. Now, many wonder if a revision of current sentencing and parole
practices may contribute to the resolution of prison overcrowding.
Opponents of mandatory minimums argue that these sentences deprive judges of
necessary discretion and fill prisons with individuals whose sentences are
unnecessarily long. Opponents are particularly troubled by the mandatory
minimums related to drug use, suggesting that substance abuse treatment is the
more appropriate and cost effective way to address this problem.
In response to such opposition, some argue that the state’s very limited list
of crimes that carry mandatory minimums, about a dozen, is both justifiable and
desirable. In addition to mandatory minimums assigned to drug trafficking and
repeat drug use offenses, mandatory minimums govern repeat offenders of sexual
abuse of children. DUI's are also subject to mandatory minimums, but typically
involve only a few days of incarceration and so do not contribute substantially
to the overcrowded prisons problem. Supporters argue that, upon review, most
Idahoans support the assignment of mandatory minimums to such serious crimes.
While judges argue against any further reduction of their discretion, they
observe that their sentences for crimes punished by mandatory minimums exceed
the imposed minimums the vast majority of the time. They further observe that
by the time most offenders are prosecuted for a crime that carries a mandatory
minimum, they have already been before a judge many times for lesser crimes.
Consequently, the judges argue, a reduction in mandatory minimums would do
little to shorten sentences.
Many who are opposed to mandatory minimums alone, nevertheless argue that
the ideal public safety policy is the combination of mandatory minimums with
the most cost-effective investments reviewed above that will decrease the
number who would actually be given a mandatory minimum sentence. Strict
sentences for these crimes, they argue, make investments in prevention,
treatment, and diversion programs all the more effective. Because serious
consequences await them if they fail to make the most of these programs,
offenders are given powerful incentive to make the most of them. Supporters of
this approach argue that it is particularly useful for those who have succumbed
to the addictive power of drugs like methamphetamine. They argue that drug
courts, for example, have been so successful because they leverage intensive drug
testing and treatment with the threat of the substantial prison sentence if
they don't manage to stay off drugs. The addictive power of these drugs is so
great, supporters of this approach argue, that the combined power of
alternatives to incarceration along with the threat of a strict sentence is
what is needed. Since we're now investing more heavily in prevention,
treatment, and diversion, they argue, now is not the time to reduce mandatory
Unified Sentencing Act of 1986
The Unified Sentencing Act established a two-part sentence for every prison
inmate: (1) a determinate, or “fixed,” portion during which the inmate is not
eligible for parole, and (2) an indeterminate portion during which they are.
Many have argued that the Unified Sentencing Act has increased the problem of
Idaho’s overcrowded prisons. The Friends and Families of Idaho Inmates, Inc.,
point out that fewer than 10% of inmates who reach their parole eligibility
date (PED)—the date that marks the end of the fixed portion of their sentence
and the first date on which they are eligible for parole—are actually paroled
at that time. They also observe that roughly 3,600 of Idaho’s 7,300 inmates are
currently past their PED. As a result, the Friends and Families of Idaho
Inmates propose that virtually all Idaho inmates be paroled on or shortly after
their PED by removing discretion over the indeterminate portion of an inmate’s
sentence from the Parole Commission except in instances of serious
Opponents argue that the Unified Sentencing Act intentionally ensured that the
Parole Commission would be able to exercise discretion. They argue that if the
corrective promise of an inmate’s sentence isn’t realized during the fixed
portion of their sentence, then the Parole Commission’s obligation to protect
public safety requires that they deny that inmate parole. Moreover, they argue,
it's unwise to take away the incentive that Parole Commission discretion
creates for good behavior and participation in programming.
Many individuals who oppose a revision of the Unified Sentencing Act, but who
still acknowledge that many more Idaho inmates should be paroled on their
PED’s, propose that there is a superior alternative which would not only
significantly increase the number of prisoners who would be released on their
PED, but would also significantly decrease the likelihood that they wouldn't
then just be re-arrested for a new crime. These individuals point out that the
Parole Commission’s unwillingness to parole inmates on their PED’s is actually
a result of lack of programming and faulty communications between IDOC and the
Parole Board. IDOC and the Parole Board have already taken several steps toward
addressing these problems. As evidence of their effectiveness, they point to the
five months we’ve gone without growth in the prison population. But, they
argue, there is still much more that can be accomplished along these lines.
Supporters of this approach recommend that in addition to further investing in
programming and coordination generally, the state take two concrete steps
particularly. First, they argue that the Legislature should increase funding
for corrective programming in Idaho prisons generally and, specifically, for
Therapeutic Community (TC) programming. Second, they argue that the Legislature
should fund a full-time Parole Commission employee at the Reception and
Diagnostic Unit (RDU). The RDU is the unit through which every inmate must pass
as they begin their incarceration. It is there that IDOC and the Parole
Commission work together to plan for each inmate’s participation in corrective
programming. Regrettably, a lack of Parole Commission staff means that, too
often, this critical planning doesn’t happen. Instead, it is deferred until after
the inmate has served most of their determinate sentence and is ready to begin
interacting with the Parole Commission regarding their PED. When, at that time,
the Parole Commission discovers that an inmate hasn’t engaged in required
programming, they refuse that inmate parole.
6. The Corrections System
By this point it should be clear that the correction system is a complex
one. The more effectively and rationally the various parts of the system
operate together, the better the chances that any given individual investment
will be effective. Similar to the state’s efforts to put in place a more
rational, coordinated approach to drug abuse, considerable work has been done
over the last year to improve coordination in the corrections system. Arguably,
we are realizing important benefits. Over the last five months our prison
population has held steady in spite of predicted growth of nearly 200 inmates.
IDOC—whose analysts caution that a full year of data is needed in order to
substantiate a trend and before any forecasts could be modified—tentatively
credits this success to effective partnerships with the courts and the Parole
Commission. The courts are sentencing fewer offenders to prison and more to
effective alternatives. Some suggest that the higher level of community-based
drug treatment has contributed to judges seeing fewer offenders who require
incarceration. The Parole Commission has paroled more offenders closer to their
PED, largely as result of greater coordination between IDOC and the Parole Commission
in getting offenders the programming the Parole Commission will require before
parole. They argue that past investments in shared data systems and staff
capable of interdepartmental cooperation are now saving the state $11,150 every
day. Arguably, further investments in a systematic approach to corrections
might increase these savings even more. We review three possible investment
Professionalization of Misdemeanor Probation
Our corrections problem extends far beyond the 7,300 individuals now
incarcerated in Idaho prisons and the additional 13,000 individuals in
community corrections. For instance, the number of individuals on misdemeanor
probation is approaching 14,000. IDOC is not responsible for these individuals.
Instead, these offenders are managed at the county level. Many argue that this
division of duty creates an inconsistency of treatment which too often allows
for a preventable escalation of criminal behavior until repeat misdemeanor
offenders are finally convicted of felonies. At that time, of course, the state
must step in and pursue serious corrective action.
Judges, who encounter misdemeanor offenders long before the escalation of their
criminal behavior leads to felony convictions, are among those who argue that
if we treated serious and repeat misdemeanor offenders with the same
seriousness of intent to correct as we treat felony offenders, we could prevent
this escalation of criminal activity and reduce the number of inmates entering
our prisons. To this end, a bill to professionalize misdemeanor probation will
come before the Legislature this session. This bill would require that counties
provide misdemeanor probation services. It would also require that counties
train and certify their misdemeanor probation officers through the Police
Officer Standards and Training Academy (POST).
In order to pay for these services, the bill will allow for the maximum monthly
fee for misdemeanor probation supervision to increase from $35 per month to $50
per month—thus matching the maximum monthly felony probation supervision
fee—and will dedicate the first dollar of each monthly fee to pay for
misdemeanor probation officer training.
Ideally, this bill would not only standardize and professionalize the way in
which misdemeanor offenders are treated and thus forestall the escalation of
their criminal behavior toward felony convictions, but also lay the groundwork
for three future steps that would allow courts and counties to take serious
corrective action on behalf of misdemeanor probationers. First, in the future,
counties might increase the number of misdemeanor probation officers. Our
nearly 14,000 misdemeanor probationers are currently supervised by about 80
misdemeanor probation officers. At an average caseload of 175 probationers,
misdemeanor probation officers have little hope of a significant corrective
influence. Experts estimate that the caseload for a misdemeanor probation
officer handling high risk misdemeanor probationers shouldn’t exceed 50 to 75.
Second, in the future, counties could administer the same formal risk
assessments for misdemeanor probationers that IDOC uses. Proponents argue that
this would allow counties to assign appropriate caseloads to misdemeanor
probation officers and focus limited resources on individuals most likely to
Third, in the future, judges could order and then rely on risk assessments
while crafting sentences or choosing alternatives to sentencing for misdemeanor
offenders. Last year, SB 1149 empowered judges to order mental health and
substance abuse assessments for those accused of felonies. Such risk
assessments allow judges to craft appropriate sentences that include required
treatment. By requiring appropriate corrective treatment for misdemeanor
offenders, judges could help to prevent the escalation to felony offenses and
the need for prison beds.
Investment in Data Management
Another systemic investment that could yield considerable savings is an
investment in data management. Reflecting his commitment that state government
be operated in a data-driven, efficient manner, the Governor argued last year
for funding the full implementation of the Correctional Integration System
(CIS), the system whereby inmates’ records are managed electronically. The
Legislature willingly appropriated the funds. IDOC argues that this investment
has already yielded savings by contributing to the slow down in predicted
inmate population growth. In part, the ability of the Parole Commission to
access important inmate information electronically helps to ensure that more
inmates are ready for timely release.
Department experts argue that many of the efficiencies of electronic
information sharing and inmate data management are still to be realized.
Electronic information sharing could better facilitate the efficient management
of inmates within and between Idaho prison facilities as well as between Idaho
and out-of-state facilities. It could allow for more efficient management of
corrective programming. Estimates suggest that the department would benefit
from an additional 15 full-time equivalent state employees (FTEs) to do this
work. While opponents argue that staff increases are expensive, proponents
argue that personnel expenses pale in comparison to the costliness and
inefficiency of on-going paper management and the inefficiencies that come with
incomplete management of electronic data.
Public Safety Cost-Effectiveness Analyst
National research finds that there are a number of effective investments that
reduce crime and save the high costs of prisons. Full realization of the
promise of increased public safety that costs fewer tax dollars requires
evaluation of Idaho’s implementation of these investments. While IDOC offers
forecasting of the prison population as a whole—thus allowing the state to anticipate
the need of prison beds—there are other needs that we don’t forecast as
effectively as we could or should. How many more offenders could we effectively
treat through drug courts? How much more therapeutic community capacity would
be optimal? Where and to whom should we offer vocational education? What is the
ideal number of misdemeanor probation officers? The list of questions to which
we currently don’t have adequate answers is long.
Corrections experts argue that we should—and can—know the answers to these
questions. With a fully funded Correctional Integration System and the
statewide drug abuse assessment and data gathering system, the state has access
to more data and better data than ever before. Now, experts throughout the
corrections system are advocating for enhanced analyses of this newly available
information to insure wise investments of the state’s public safety dollars.
Since the corrections system, particularly when one considers the need to
prevent and treat drug abuse, involves several different agencies and offices
within the executive branch as well as the judicial branch, many have suggested
that one alternative would be to fund an analyst position that is independent
of any one agency. For example, the analyst could be housed within the
Legislative Services Office (LSO) or the Office of Performance Evaluation