By Alejandra Buitrago
Over the last 35 years, Idaho’s imprisonment rate increased five-fold, making it the state with the 13th highest incarceration rate in the nation and outpacing all six neighboring states, according to a new report from the Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy. In 2016, Idaho had the lowest violent-crime rate but the highest incarceration rate, compared to Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming, according to the Idaho Department of Correction.
Fifty percent of the increase in incarceration rates came from newly sentenced individuals on non-violent drug offenses, according to the Idaho Department of Correction.
The report by the Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy states that policymakers have increased funding for prisons at a faster rate than funding for education, with prison spending going up 204 percent between 1992 and 2017, after adjusting for inflation. State spending on higher education rose by 26 percent and K-12 spending rose 87 percent during that same time.
“Idaho prison costs take up an ever-larger share of state resources,” said Alejandra Cerna Rios, policy director at the Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy. “Many other states have shown that taking a hard look at operating prisons and criminal-justice systems more efficiently results in dollars freed up for investments in schools, roads and health care, while maintaining low crime rates.”
In January 2014, the Council of State Governments Justice Center—CSG Justice Center—released a report identifying three challenges the Idaho Department of Correction was facing and ways that it could be improved. This report led to the Justice Reinvestment Act, which was passed in March 2014.