Lawmaker seeks to disband state parole commission

LEWISTON TRIBUNEMarch 7, 2014 

In a joint budget committee meeting, Sen. Dan Schmidt, D-Moscow, proposed eliminating all funding for the Commission for Pardons and Parole, which approves such things for Idaho inmates, giving them the opportunity to return to society as responsible citizens.

“This is meant in no way to disrespect the commission or its staff,” he said, “but what I heard during its budget hearing was deeply troubling to me. The commission has asked us for funding to address a situation that, in essence, puts them in violation of state statutes and rules.”

In a February budget presentation, the commission requested four new positions and nearly $1 million in additional funding. The biggest line item was $389,000 to help catch up on a four-year backlog of unapproved minutes.

The legislative budget book, which lays out all agencies’ funding requests, notes that: “The commission, it has nearly 40,000 sets of unedited, unapproved minutes. These minutes are the public record of the commission hearings and reviews. The commission generates an average of 360 (new) sets of minutes each month.”

Schmidt said the commission’s problems with data management are well documented. The Office of Performance Evaluation has addressed the situation in two reports and four follow-up reports since 2001.

Among other findings, OPE suggested upward of 57 percent to 69 percent of Idaho prison inmates are being released after their tentative parole dates, at a potential cost to the state of $7.2 million per year. Some of the difficulty stems from offenders not completing their required counseling and treatment programs in a timely fashion, but ineffective record-keeping is a contributing factor.

RECORD-KEEPING PROBLEMS

In its most recent follow-up report, in 2012, OPE said the Department of Correction has taken steps to address the backlog in treatment and counseling programs. Little progress had been made, however, in the area of data collections and management.

“Our reports on the parole process continue to underscore the same themes,” the 2012 report concludes. “Unless the commission makes substantive changes in the way it manages offender data, we believe (another) follow-up report will be of little use.”

In her response to the report, Executive Director Olivia Cravens said the commission “is extremely hopeful we will be able to consolidate data into a database system that is usable.”

She also noted that the commission requested funding for a management assistant and deputy director to help address some of the concerns.

Those budget requests weren’t approved last year, and the four positions and $1 million in additional funding weren’t approved this year, either.

However, the budget committee could still pick up at least a portion of the request before the Legislature adjourns this month.

“We’re looking to see if we can tie it in with the criminal justice reinvestment bill,” said Rep. Darrell Bolz, R-Caldwell, referring to a major reform bill that proposes investing $33 million in probation and parole officers, community treatment programs and other efforts designed to reduce prison recidivism by 15 percent.

Schmidt said the reform bill includes a number of positive changes, but it won’t address all the current problems with the commission.

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