Many states reducing prison populations, costs, but Idaho not among them, study shows

The nation’s prison population dropped by 5 percent, or 77,000 people, from 2010 to 2015, according to a study by the New York-based nonprofit research group Vera Institute of Justice.

The reduction is attributed to a number of factors.

“Lawmakers in nearly every state and from across the political spectrum — some prompted by the 2008 recession — have enacted new laws to reduce prison populations and spending, often guided by a now‑large body of research supporting alternative, more effective responses to crime,” the study says.

“In addition to fiscal pressures, the push for reform has been further bolstered by other factors, including low crime rates; shifting public opinion that now favors less incarceration and more rehabilitation; and dissatisfaction with past punitive policies that have failed to moderate persistently high recidivism rates among those sent to prison.”

Thirteen states, all in the eastern and southern parts of the country, reduced inmate populations and saw combined cost reductions totaling $1.6 billion.

Seven states, including Washington and Nevada, reduced costs even as their prison populations grew, the study shows.

Idaho was one of 15 states where both the number of prisoners and the related costs grew. The state’s inmate count increased 8 percent to 8,120 inmates in 2015. Costs rose 18 percent, with expenditures topping $180 million that year.

Pat Donaldson, management services chief for the Idaho Department of Correction, attributed the state’s spending increase primarily to IDOC assuming oversight of the Idaho Correctional Center in mid-2014, a prison official told the Statesman on Friday.

In mid-2014, the state took back control of the prison south of Boise after 14 years under the operation of Nashville-based Corrections Corporation of America (now called CoreCivic). CCA has been dogged for years by lawsuits over its oversight of the Idaho prison, paying to settle claims by the state that it falsified staffing records. A lawsuit alleging chronic understaffing led to a group of inmates being attacked by a prison gang ended in February with a jury handing down a mixed verdict.

At $22,182 per year, Idaho’s annual cost per inmate remains among the lowest in the West.

The annual costs per inmate in other western states: $44,021 in Oregon, $37,841 in Washington, and $33,578 in Montana, $22,119 in Utah and $17,851 in Nevada.

Katy Moeller: 208-377-6413, @KatyMoeller