Commentary and information about public safety and security, intelligence and counterintelligence, open government and secrecy, and other issues in northern Idaho and eastern Washington.

Location: Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, United States

Raised in Palouse, WA. Graduated from Washington State University. US Army (Counterintelligence). US Secret Service (Technical Security Division) in Fantasyland-on-the-Potomac and Los Angeles. Now living in north Idaho.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

The Treasure Valley Partnership

On June 22, 2006, the Idaho Department of Correction (IDOC), Boise State University (BSU), and the Boise Valley Habitat for Humanity (HfH) announced an innovative and courageous partnership to accelerate HfH's build schedules for lower-income housing while at the same time helping state prisoners become productive community members after they are released.

The partnership will provide selected minimum custody Idaho prison inmates with meaningful vocational training in carpentry at BSU. Those same inmates, supervised by vocational instructors trained in offender management techniques, will then apply their vocational skills at HfH projects in the Treasure Valley.

According to press relase documents released by the three partners on June 22, 2006, the Center for Workforce Training at BSU partners with the IDOC to provide high-quality carpentry training for selected minimum-custody state offenders to give back to the community while at the same time learning a needed vocation. Access to stable employment that produces a liveable income is a critical factor for successfully reintegrating formerly incarcerated prisoners into their communities. The offenders are nearing their release date from prison. It was stated earlier but bears repeating: The offenders are working under close supervision by vocational instructors who have also been trained in offender management techniques.

One benefit not emphasized in the June 22 press releases is that since the offenders are working on HfH houses in the community, the offenders' demeanor can be scrutinized by members of that community. What the community members hopefully see is an offender working hard, working productively, and working peacefully to help others in need in their community. The understated benefit, it seems to me, is that this project educates the public and helps us better understand that successful offender reintegration is possible. As Pam Sonnen, IDOC administrator of operations, said, "This is real work in the real world, not just a mock-up or model, and it teaches offenders accountability and industry standards."

Since the press releases and associated information were not available on the IDOC, BSU, or HfH websites at the time this post was prepared, I requested permission to quote directly from the material. Some of the information from "Common questions and answers about our partnership" is reproduced here by permission:

Why would Habitat for Humanity want to be involved in this partnership?

The mission of Habitat for Humanity is to create stronger communities. We are sending a very powerful and redemptive message by providing people with an opportunity to give back to the community they may have originally offended. In addition, IDOC offenders are able to provide specialized construction skills that might otherwise add to construction costs, such as concrete work.

Why are Boise State University and the Idaho Department of Correction educating convicted felons with vocational skills?

National research is very clear that stable employment is one of the most mportant factors in keeping an offender from having repeat contact with the criminal justice system after they're released. Ninety-eight percent of all offenders eventually return to their communities and become our neighbors. Ensuring they have a job skill greatly increases the chance they will become productive members of our communities.

Is it a community safety concern to have offenders working outside prison walls?

The 10 offenders on this project are under constant supervision and both instructors on site are fully trained in offender management techniques. All offenders participating in this partnership are classified as minimum custody and have undergone a screening process.

How does this partnership fit in with Boise State University's vision for the future?

This program is an excellent example of how the Selland college of Applied Technology already provides classes that would normally be considered a part of the community college function. It demonstrates that Boise State University is well-positioned to provide those services to the Treasure Valley and surrounding southwest Idaho counties.

The question that must be asked is this: Could a partnership program like this work in northern Idaho?

North Idaho College has the vocational training courses. There is a need for skilled apprentices and journeymen tradesmen in northern Idaho.

Habitat for Humanity and other organizations committed to creating stronger communities are here.

Unfortunately, what Kootenai County lacks is an IDOC custodial facility. It's important to remember that the offenders participating in the Treasure Valley partnership are still incarcerated prisoners. At the end of each day's training and work, they are returned to an IDOC facility. Idaho Correctional Institution - Orofino is the closest state prison, but it is 176 miles and 3 hours away. Idaho's only community work centers (CWC) are in Nampa, Boise, Twin Falls and Idaho Falls.

Some years ago the IDOC proposed putting a CWC in Kootenai County. The CWC would have housed low-risk offenders awaiting or being considered for parole. During the day, they would have been working under IDOC supervision in the community. When not working, they would have been incarcerated under IDOC supervision. The Kootenai County Board of Commissioners fought against the CWC, and they prevailed.

In my October 17, 2005, post entitled Why Not a Regional Criminal Justice Center, I proposed that Washington and Idaho officials meet and discuss building a regional justice center on the Washington-Idaho border. That center would include post-sentence jail facilities, a regional public safety training facility, and an IDOC CWC. As I expected, this idea went nowhere.

But now there's again an opportunity. In The Spokesman-Review on Sunday, June 25, 2006, staff writerBetsy Z. Russell reports that IDOC Director Tom Beauclair "... is working on a request for more than $300 million in new prison construction to present to next year's Legislature." Her article, headlined Calls mount for new prisons, reports that Director Beauclair has identified the need for a 1,500-bed prison in Idaho.

But why would anyone want a state prison or CWC in northern Idaho? How could an IDOC facility benefit the community as well as the offenders? These are fair questions.

Ninety-five to 98 percent of state-incarcerated offenders will be released back into their communities. The receiving communities have little to say about that. Released offenders are coming, so it stands to reason that the receiving communities will feel and be safer if they can help released offenders not reoffend.

Released offenders need an internalized personal commitment to not reoffend. That commitment, assuming it exists, will be positively reinforced if the offenders have stable, liveable-wage jobs. They need safe, affordable housing. They need a level of social structure and support provided by the community. Without all these their chances of reoffending in the receiving community goes up. If the Treasure Valley partnership works as planned, a significant part of the success will come from the offender participants being eased back into their community rather than dumped into it with little community involvement. A state prison or CWC (maybe both?) in our area would help that ease-on-back transition to be successful. That benefits the receiving community.

A state prison's and CWC's population counts toward the area's census. That influences federal funding and support from census-based programs.

A state prison or a CWC employs people who live the the surrounding community. Those employees support the community socially and economically.

Receiving communities have very little say about who they get when offenders are released. However, by supporting IDOC efforts to educate offenders, get and keep them clean and sober, provide them with meaningful employment, make safe affordable housing available, and provide them with supporting social structure, communities can influence the probability of offenders being successfully reintegrated into their community as producers rather than predators. That puts the "community" in community corrections.

If nothing else, every successfully reintegrated former offender who does not return to prison means there is a cell for one offender who absolutely must be incarcerated because he represents a danger to the community or to himself. Successful reintegration reduces jail and prison overcrowding. That alone is reason to encourage programs like the Treasure Valley partnership.

Addendum: June 28, 2006: The IDOC press release announcing Habitat for Humanity, Boise State University, and the Idaho Dept. of Correction Partner for a Stronger Community is now available on the IDOC website.


Blogger StibitzRK said...

Great article Bill. A couple of things come to mind here, so I will try to be brief.

Is incarceration meant to be punishment, or rehabilitation?

By offering education in the form of vocational training to offenders, what message are we sending to those who have worked hard to better themselves, by paying for their own educations?

Are we suppose to believe that only uneducated persons commit crimes that land them in jail?

If the punishment of incarceration is not enough of a deterent against crime, maybe we need tougher punishment for crime.

If I tell my child that she/he is grounded for a month, then let them go to a friends birthday party... I have provided them with an education. They just learned that my word is no good.

When we allow gangs of dope dealers, who drive through our neighborhoods shooting up the place to aquire Chevy Suburbans, Hummers, BMW's, etc... We are sending the wrong message to our children.

Maybe we need to stop buying product from companies who sponsor pimps and make them the idols of todays top music stations.

If we take a softer gentler approach to crime, and offer criminals education, vocational training, etc... the next thing you know we will have criminals in public office! Maybe even CONGRESS!

4:22 AM, June 28, 2006  
Blogger Bill McCrory said...



Post-conviction incarceration is intended to first punish the offender and second to determine if the offender's deviant behavior can be managed enough or controlled to let him return to the community under some sort of supervision.

I don't use the term "rehabilitation" because that seems to imply that the causes of criminally deviant behavior can somehow be cured like a twisted knee or sprained ankle, never to return again. I don't think we know anywhere near enough about the causes of deviant behavior to suggest "cure" is possible. I do think, though, that some deviant behaviors can be managed and controlled well enough to warrant the offerders being reintegrated into society under close supervision.

Some can't. It doesn't take advanced degrees in psych or sociology to suspect that some people like Charles Manson or Joseph Duncan or Ted Bundy (I know, Bundy's dead) must forever be confined.

By offering education in the form of vocational training to offenders, the message we are hopefully sending to non-offenders is that it will take fewer of the non-offenders' hard-earned tax dollars to manage a releaseable offender in the community that it will cost to keep him in prison or jail. "Community corrections" (probation and parole) costs you and me about $4 per pffender per day in tax dollars, whereas incarceration in a state prison costs $49-$53 per day per offender. The objective of vocational education is to keep released offenders from reoffending and returning to prison. The keys to reducing reoffense rates are jobs, affordable housing, and tight social controls in the community. Vocational training helps released offenders get and keep jobs. That saves your and my tax dollars, and it also helps ensure there will be cell space available for those who absolutely, positively must be locked up.

No, the scumbags of Enron demonstrate that educated people also commit crimes that land them in prison. But Lay, Skilling, et al are less likely to return to prison after they're released because they have the ability to earn and they have housing.

The social research suggests that fear of incarceration deters a few offenders from reoffending. These are very likely the people who would do well on probation or parole anyway. However, many offenders who have been imprisoned are undeterred by the thought of returning to prison. In fact, there is evidence that some recidivists reoffend hoping to be returned to prison because it provides a comfortable social structure for them. They cannot cope with "normal" societal pressures and expectations on the outside, so they hope to return to prison. It's called "institutionalization."

Rewarding deviant behavior, failing to first prevent its causes and then to second correct it swiftly and surely, only provides the deviant with positive reinforcement. If punishment is the most effective negative reinforcement in a particular situation, then it must be timely and decisive. If punishment is inappropriately mild or not timely, it has little value.

We do have some criminals in Congress. They are influential enough to evade prosecution and in cases where they are prosecuted, they have the re$ource$ to minimize the penalties imposed. Talk about positively reinforcing deviant behavior!

7:06 AM, June 28, 2006  
Anonymous brentandrews said...

No "regional" prisons, please. This gives me the creeps. Prisons should give every free person the creeps. But you say "why, I'm not a criminal!" And they said, "well, I'm not a Jew. I'm not a negro. I'm not a capitalist-roader" and looked the other way ...

7:48 AM, June 30, 2006  

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