Idaho has a problem.
Our prisons are overflowing with prisoners, an estimated 53% of whom are nonviolent drug offenders. Our state officials are currently exploring out-of-state options, including moving even more prisoners to Texas (250 are already in that state) or building a 1,500-bed prison facility that will cost taxpayers $500 million.
Lawmakers and officials are considering moving forward with these ideas knowing the costs will be borne by taxpayers. Additionally, prisoners will be separated from their families, creating a situation in which crucial support structures are removed from prisoners who are vulnerable to recidivism.
I know we can do better.
Utah recently had a similar problem, but they’ve dealt with the difficulties in a very different way. Both Utah and Idaho had very strict drug laws that considered possession of any trace of many narcotics a felony, necessitating massive prisoner populations. But while Idaho has held tight to these same laws, Utah shifted gears in 2014. The state moved all first- and second-time drug possessions from felonies to misdemeanors, and over 200 misdemeanors were moved to purely citations.
As a result, the state has seen a 9% reduction in prison populations and statewide financial savings that Utah has instead been able to invest in recovery programs and substance abuse treatment plans. This gives prisoners a better chance at changing destructive behaviors, keeps addicts nearer to family and friends who provide much-needed care, and allows the state to create more sustainable budgets that better support our citizens.
As your lieutenant governor, I promise to stand with our citizens. We can create more humane laws that ensure our prisons aren’t at maximum capacity, while we also keep our citizens safe. We know this is possible because our neighboring states have done it. At my events, I have heard from family members who have loved ones in the prison system. And they have asked us to try and bring rational change to Boise. In addition to making these reforms, we know that investing in pre-kindergarten leads to lower crime rates, so instead of spending money to lock up nonviolent offenders, we could better fund education and ensure brighter futures for the children who comprise the next generation.
So please, stand with me and those whose loved ones are caught in a system of outdated sentencing and ask our government to reform our prison structure and make positive changes for all Idahoans. Let’s make #IdahoStronger and #VoteForTheVet Kristin Collum on Nov. 6th.