Idaho looks to national program to fix incarceration rate - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

Idaho looks to national program to fix incarceration rate

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Idaho, with the help of a national program has created the Justice Reinvestment Act. Idaho, with the help of a national program has created the Justice Reinvestment Act.
COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho -

Idaho had one of the highest incarceration rates in the country in 2013. If this trend continues the prison population is expected to increase by 15 percent in the next five years. At one point state officials were considering spending $288 million on a new prison. Instead, the state, with the help of a national program, analyzed the contributing factors of these increasing numbers and presented a plan to state legislators on how to fix it.

"What resulted was the Justice Reinvestment Act," says District Manager of the Department of Corrections Eric Kiehl.

Kiehl says roughly $50 million of the proposed $288 million was given to the department of corrections. The extra funding goes toward more training and staff with the goal to keep non-violent offenders from returning to jail.

"This will allow us to better supervise these individuals as we move them through their correctional experience in a little more judicious fashion," says Kiehl.

There are 25 parole officers working in Idaho's five northern counties, Kiehl says all of them work on nearly 90 cases. The reinvestment act is designed to cut the caseload down from 90 to a more manageable number, 50 or 60. Kiehl says this would give his department more of an opportunity to reintroduce those on parole into society without the risk of re-offending.

Kootenai County Sheriff Ben Wolfinger says jails have their place and he understands some offenders can't be rehabilitated, but admits these types of community programs are much more effective than the threat of time behind bars.

"We try to look at what best serves everyone," says Wolfinger. "This isn't something they've dreamed up. They've looked at case studies from around the country and other areas that have done this, and it seems to be working and working well."

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