Idaho’s state prison system is eliminating 24 more staff positions, bringing the number cut in the past two years to 102, and imposing far-reaching furloughs on all prison staffers in the coming year to cope with state budget cuts. Because of shifts of workers from one job to another and non-filling of positions that become vacant, there have been few layoffs, the Idaho Department of Correction reports. “This has been a difficult process especially for the employees whose jobs have been impacted,” said Corrections Director Brent Reinke. “While almost all of them still have jobs, many of them have had to take pay cuts and demotions.” In the fiscal year that starts July 1, all prison security staff will have to take 32 hours of unpaid furlough, while all other department employees must take 80 hours.
Meanwhile, Idaho’s prison population is forecast to grow by 4.3 percent in the coming fiscal year. Reinke said the growth could be more because of additional cuts in social service programs through the Department of Health and Welfare and the Office of Drug Policy. “The fact is there are now a lot of people who won’t get the mental health or drug treatment they need in the community and run the risk of ending up in prison,” Reinke said.
More offenders under supervision and fewer staff working reduced hours does not bode well for offenders or our communities. More people will fail in prison and while on probation or parole, and prison will become even more dangerous. But this gloomy forecast does not have to come to pass. As I've written on this blog and elsewhere, the many states are working to reduce the number of offenders sent to prison. But so far, Idaho has resisted taking a rational approach to its problem. Such intransigence in the face of the evidence will only cost the state more in the future - more money and more failures.