By Betsy Z Russell
Ada County Sheriff Stephen Bartlett told state lawmakers Monday that his county jail is being overrun with state prisoners including parole violators, and he blames the state’s justice reinvestment initiative.
But state officials said JRI, which the state adopted in 2014, actually didn’t change anything on when state inmates are released or when parolees land in jails.
Sandy Jones, executive director of the Commission for Pardons and Parole, said it’s a “common misperception” that the justice reinvestment initiative somehow requires early release of prison inmates.
“Nowhere in statute does it say that,” she said. “That was never a mandate of justice reinvestment.”
“The Parole Commission has always had complete discretion to make parole decisions,” Jones told the lawmakers. “That was true before JRI, it’s true today.”
Bartlett said he believes “one of the unintended consequences of JRI is that prisoners who should be in custody have been released on parole, where they’ve committed crimes at a higher rate than ever. Just look at the drastic increase in parolee bookings at the Ada County Jail since 2014.”
In 2014-15, there were 459 parolee bookings into the Ada County Jail, he said; in 2017-18, that figure was 658.
But nothing in Idaho’s justice reinvestment initiative calls for early release of prisoners. “That’s an important point, that JRI doesn’t mandate release of anybody,” said Rep. Lynn Luker, R-Boise, the House Judiciary Committee chairman and co-chair of the joint Criminal Justice Reinvestment Oversight Committee. “It’s still up to the parole board.”
Just as before JRI, the Parole Commission doesn’t consider releasing any Idaho inmate until the inmate has served his or her full fixed term as set by a judge, Jones said. After that, the commission weighs risk to the community in deciding whether to release an inmate on parole during their indeterminate time that follows their fixed term.