Over the past 25 years, spending on prisons in Idaho increased by over 200 percent, ranking as one of the highest spikes in the nation, according to a new think tank analysis.
Idaho placed sixth nationwide behind states like Arkansas, Nebraska and West Virginia in state prison spending, according to a new report from the Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy, a nonpartisan public policy research nonprofit based in Boise.
The spike, which vastly outpaced increases in Idaho's spending on public schools and higher education, corresponds with growth in the state's inmate population. Many state inmates are serving sentences in county jails and about 700 Idaho inmates are housed in private prisons in Texas due to overcrowding in Idaho prisons. Idaho also imprisons its population at a higher rate than surrounding states, according to a 2018 policy brief from the center.
The report attributes the growth in the Idaho prison population to policies to lengthen prison terms adopted in the 1980s and '90s, such as mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses and a requirement that Idaho inmates serve 100 percent of their fixed sentence. (Idaho, along with Nevada and New Hampshire, are the only states that have such a fixed sentence policy, per the report.) Additionally, Idaho also has a three-strikes law that mandates that a third felony results in a minimum five-year prison term.
Prison admissions data also show that nonviolent offenders make up a significant proportion of Idahoans entering prison, the report found. Of the 4,700 people admitted to Idaho prisons over the course of 2019, 35 percent were admitted for drug possession and an estimated 4 percent for low-level property crimes.
The analysis comes on the heels of Idaho Gov. Brad Little's request in his 2021 budget proposal for more funding for inmate beds in correctional facilities in both Idaho and other states.