Josh Tewalt closer 1-14-20

Idaho Department of Correction Director Josh Tewalt at his agency’s budget hearing at the state Capitol on Tuesday.

The Community Corrections division of the state prisons budget shows a 22.5% general fund increase in the governor’s budget recommendation; that includes the new Community Interventions program, to target services to 2,000 of the most at-risk parolees to keep them from reoffending; operations costs at the new Twin Falls re-entry center that’s set to open in October; and a $1.2 million increase in probation and parole staff, including ongoing funding for 17 new positions that were added last year with just one-time funding.

“What’s consistent through all of it is the approach we’re taking to try to solve some of these complex challenges,” state Corrections Director Josh Tewalt told the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee this morning. That includes gathering data to make sure changes are effective and evidence-based. That’s what happened with those 17 positions last year, he said. They included eight parole officers, one section supervisor, one re-entry specialist, and for the other seven positions, a new classification called a “PO specialist” designed to be an entry-level position that could handle administrative and clerical tasks that otherwise would fall on probation and parole officers. The idea was to reduce “time doing stuff that looks like busy work” for those officers, and increase time spent “actually influencing their case load,” Tewalt said. Last year’s additions also included an increase in electronic monitoring and two new pre-sentence investigators.

In the governor’s proposal for next year, operations at the new 160-bed Twin Falls re-entry center would be funded at $2.7 million, including $2.2 million in state general funds, covering 28 full-time positions. The new Community Interventions program would be funded at $5.9 million, including $4.6 million in state general funds. Tewalt told lawmakers it should be the most meaningful move IDOC has made to address its public safety mission.

“It’s easier to try to respond to the behavior we see than it is to try to understand why they’re doing that,” Tewalt said. “But we’re increasingly convinced that understanding the ‘why’ is important to helping people make positive change.”

He said both accountability and meaningful interventions are needed. “Our system traditionally has been heavy on the accountability – we’ve got a lot of P.O.’s running around with handcuffs,” Tewalt said. But, he said, “There are a lot of factors that go into creating risk in our communities. If we are truly going to affect public safety,” he said, those factors also have to be addressed. “What we’re talking about is providing outpatient services to the population on supervision most at risk to reoffend,” ranging from transitional housing to drug testing to treatment programs. “We’re talking about providing interventions in a way that’s just not practical to ask our P.O.’s to do. … It’s a stopgap to try to get them back on the right path.”

In the process, Tewalt said, “We anticipate saving $6.5 million in incarceration costs. … It provides some long-term path forward for our agency.”

Rep. Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise, while also asking questions, complimented both Tewalt and Gov. Brad LIttle for their vision in proposing the new program. "It's the right thing to do, and it will pay off," she said.

Betsy Z. Russell is the Boise bureau chief and state capitol reporter for the Idaho Press and Adams Publishing Group. Follow her on Twitter at @BetsyZRussell.

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