On Monday, the Senate Judiciary & Rules Committee voted to approve AIC-supported legislation aimed at strengthening Idaho’s Justice Reinvestment laws.
City officials are urged to contact their local legislators and respectfully ask for their support of Senate Bill 1113, which will be up for floor debate and vote in the Senate later this week.
The Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI) was a data-driven approach aimed at addressing Idaho’s relatively high rates of incarceration for nonviolent crimes and rapidly burgeoning prison population.
The reforms, which were passed by the Legislature in 2014, included moving nonviolent offenders out of prison and into community-based supervision programs that incorporated better substance abuse and mental health assessments and treatment.
By reducing the number of nonviolent offenders in prison, Idaho would have a more sustainable corrections system without building new prisons. Investments in strengthening probation and parole would help ensure that the program was effective in reducing recidivism.
While Justice Reinvestment has successfully reduced prison costs, there have been unintended consequences including a very concerning increase in violent crimes committed by parolees who remain on parole despite drug or other violations.
A tragic example involves Marco Romero who was on parole after serving time for two charges of possession of a controlled substance and one charge of leaving the scene of an accident resulting in injury or death. He had several prior convictions for drug charges.
Last November, Romero opened fire inside a Meridian apartment filled with his family and friends, shooting a man and a woman. He carjacked an 89-year old woman two days later, and police tracked him to the Central Rim neighborhood, where he was killed in a gun battle after tragically shooting two police officers and a K-9. The officers survived, but the K-9 died.
Romero remained on parole after testing positive for methamphetamine, which is considered a technical parole violation.
Sen. Patti Anne Lodge, Chair of the Senate Judiciary & Rules Committee and Rep. Lynn Luker, Chair of the House Judiciary, Rules & Administration Committee worked together over the interim on legislation to strengthen the Justice Reinvestment laws.
The hearing before the Senate Judiciary & Rules Committee was packed with law enforcement officers in uniform and the bill was strongly supported by the Idaho Chiefs of Police Association, Idaho Sheriffs Association and Fraternal Order of Police.
Sen. Lodge said in her opening statement that the bill was dedicated to Cpl. Chris Davis and Cpl. Kevin Holtry of the Boise Police Department, the officers who were shot by Marco Romero.
“I want to dedicate this legislation to these heroes who have suffered injuries to protect the citizens of Idaho. Thank you so much for the outstanding work you do,” Lodge said.
Lodge noted that the changes proposed by Senate Bill 1113 will “increase public safety and strengthen accountability for offenders.”
The bill would add two commissioners to the Idaho Commission of Pardons & Parole and allow two commissioners to meet and decide parole violations; these changes should help expedite decisions on parole violations.
The bill also provides that the swift, certain and graduated sanctions for parole violators may be used by parole officers without having a hearing. Such sanctions could include: community service, increased reporting, curfews, substance use assessments, monitoring or treatment, cognitive behavioral treatment, and educational or vocational skills education, among others.
The state’s policy “to focus prison space on those who commit the most serious offenses or who have the highest likelihood of offending in the future” is clearly articulated in the legislation.
The bill also provides the parole commission with complete discretion to decide individual cases, considering the current risk assessment, criminal history, program participation, compliance and completion, institutional misconduct and other individual characteristics related to the likelihood of the person to reoffend in the future when making parole decisions.
The bill eliminates the current 90 and 180-day incarceration framework for first and second parole violations and allows the commission to impose sanctions at any time up to and including revocation of parole and returning the offender to state custody.
AIC Legislative Chair Mayor John Evans of Garden City provided outstanding testimony in support of the bill.
“We had five officer involved shootings involving parolees in Ada County in one year. We had a gun fight at our police station and I had Garden City, Boise City and Ada County law enforcement officers defending themselves against a person who shouldn’t have been let out of jail. That kind of thing hits very close to home.”
“We are very concerned about the safety of our law enforcement officers and our community,” Evans said.
The committee members voted to send Senate Bill 1113 to the floor with a do-pass recommendation. The bill will likely come up for floor debate and vote later this week.
We ask city officials to contact their local legislators and respectfully ask that they support Senate Bill 1113.