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Sentencing: Faced With Swollen Prisons, Idaho Ponders Reforms

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #523)
Politics & Advocacy

With nearly 7,500 people behind bars in Idaho -- more than half of them for drug offenses -- the Idaho legislature is finally beginning to move away from the "tough on crime" posturing and infliction of mandatory minimum drug dealing sentences that helped create the current crisis. A bill with bipartisan support that would give Idaho judges the option to send people convicted of drug distribution offenses to treatment instead of mandatory prison terms if they are found to be addicts is on the move in Boise.

House Bill 516, sponsored by three Republicans and one Democrat, is in line for a full hearing at the House Judiciary, Rules and Administration Committee this session. The bill would mark a departure for Idaho, which for years has responded to illegal drug use and sales by ratcheting up penalties.

But even the bill's sponsors are still playing to the punishment choir, if the Associated Press got it right. Rep. Nicole LeFavour (D-Boise), a cosponsor of the bill, told the committee Monday most people convicted of drug distribution offenses deserved harsh sentences. But, she said, those involved in small-time dealing because of their addictions should get a chance at treatment instead. "For these rare instances, this will allow for an alternative sentence by judges," she said. "If treatment is provided, that provides the best chance of recovering."

Under current Idaho law, most drug dealing convictions require mandatory minimum sentences of three to five years. Some methamphetamine and meth precursor offenses carry 10-year mandatory minimums, though.

The bill "ain't a bad idea," Rep. Dick Harwood (R-St. Maries) told the AP. "Our prisons are pumped full. It would be nice to give judges discretion about whether to send somebody to prison or to some other treatment program. In reality, they're the ones that are sitting on the front lines, not the legislators who are making the laws."

There is also a another bill aimed at sentencing reform in Idaho. Rep. Jim Clark (R-Hayden) has introduced a bill that would expand misdemeanor drug courts. It is aimed at stopping minor offenders from developing full-blown substance abuse problems. If these bills are truly harbingers of a new approach in the Gem State, it's about time.

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


Anonymous (not verified)

While i think this solution is half ass in a big way, i do think its intresting that a states responce to a full prison system is to provide a different place to stick some prisoners rather than jumping on build more prisons band wagon.

maybe before i die, people will finaly ask, who cares what the guy next door is smoking.

Fri, 02/15/2008 - 8:32pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree that this measure does not come near the reform that we should make, here in Idaho, it at least is a start. These people are only criminals in the word of the law (they have been made so because they treated their body in a way defined by the law as being not acceptable to society). They have hurt no one, usually not even themselves. So for this abuse we lock these "abusers" up with those that have committed true crimes, such as murder, forgery, and etc. By incarcerating these people in the same way as "criminals" were are not only costing the people of the state far more than necessary in taxes, we are teaching theses victimless criminals the unbalance of justice in our society and how they could be a part of correcting such injustice.

Sat, 02/16/2008 - 2:33pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

leaglize it and cure the problem! hmm that was simple! I don't even have a degree...

Mon, 12/01/2008 - 8:24pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

I believe as a wife of a prison inmate that mandatory minimums or even good time need to be re addressed in Idaho Prison systems. The state complains of swollen prison systems yet they continue to lock up non violent drug addicts who only sold to support their habits. Maybe we need to address the real problem and realize that 75 % of these men need rehabilitation through counseling and rehab. In all reality what is prison for? To keep the violent rapists, murderers and child molesters away from our children and innocent bi standards. Judges are to quickly to well,to judge an offender by their cover I guess. It costs more than $20,000 a year to house and inmate. Why not have them out on the streets supporting themselves and their families. Many women must resort to state assistance only to support their children due to loss of a second income. A drug addiction is a disease and should be treated like any other. Who is a judge really? Somebody to decide the fate of a family? I think not!

Thu, 03/19/2009 - 1:01am Permalink

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