KOOTENAI COUNTY, Idaho — The Idaho Department of Correction confirms that it’s considering Kootenai County as a potential home for a new, 130-bed community re-entry center for parolees and probationers.
The proposal, however, is being met with local criticism including push-back from a candidate running for Kootenai County Sheriff.
Jeff Ray, an IDOC spokesman, confirmed the agency’s proposal, but noted that the project “is in its infancy” and that no firm plans were in place.
The re-entry center would be funded with $12.2 million in state funds that were appropriated by Idaho’s legislature earlier this year. The proposal comes amid a need for more community reentry centers, or CRCs, IDOC said.
On its website, IDOC described CRCs as residential facilities staffed with correctional officers, rehab specialists, and additional support staff.
“[CRCs] allow offenders to work while becoming reunited with families and the community. The centers offer selected inmates, who are nearing release, a chance to prepare themselves for release. Second, they provide protection to the community through high accountability and security of the offender in the community re-entry center program,” says information on the IDOC website.
The centers are staffed 24/7 by correctional officers, Ray said, and save taxpayers money.
IDOC said that Kootenai County would serve as a potential location for a CRC given its local economy and employer base.
“We have not identified a site, and we have not committed to building it in Kootenai County. Our focus now is on identifying a location that meets a set of criteria necessary for these types of centers to be successful. Much of that criteria centers on proximity to potential employees, employers, and access to services,” wrote Ray in an email to KREM.
The proposed CRC could either be built from scratch or occupy an existing, remodeled facility, IDOC said. The center would sit on a roughly two to four acre site.
On Wednesday evening, opponents of the proposed CRC were planning to meet at the Coeur d’Alene Resort to discuss concerns with the idea.
"Ideally, I wouldn't want to have it at all,” said John Grimm, who organized the meeting.
Grimm, a candidate for Kootenai County Sheriff, also started a Facebook page titled “JUST SAY NO to the prison re-entry center” (sic).
"My first reaction was, I started thinking about the numerous prison scandals we read about down from Boise,” Grimm said. "What kind of drove me getting behind it, is I couldn't get any straight answers out of the IDOC."
Grimm expressed concern with the uncertainty of the types of offenders that could be placed in the CRC and the likelihood of recidivism.
"That's my number one concern,” he said. “The impact on law enforcement is going to be tremendous. The impact on the surrounding areas."
Grimm added that he served as a former reserve deputy with an Idaho sheriff's agency.
Current Kootenai County Sheriff Ben Wolfinger was more optimistic of the idea.
"I have said all along that I welcome a center that would bring Kootenai County inmates back to Kootenai County to reintegrate them back into our communities. I even understand a centralized facility for the five northern counties," wrote Wolfinger in an email to KREM. "I have been opposed in the past and still believe that we should not be the facility to house inmates from around the State."
While Grimm said that he wasn't opposed to the idea of offenders being rehabilitated and placed back into society, he said he was distrustful of IDOC's practices. "This experiment has failed over and over again. And the numbers bear that out," he said.
When asked about local criticism of the proposal, Ray emphasized that the CRC would serve existing offenders who are already in the area.
"We’re not proposing that inmates from across the state be moved to new a correctional facility in Kootenai County. The proposed center would serve parolees and probationers who are already living in North Idaho, and offenders who are returning to the area following a period of incarceration," wrote Ray in an email.
Ray added that Idaho's five Northern counties are already home to more than 2,000 felony probationers and parolees. The CRC, Ray said, would create more accountability and a structured reentry process into society.
"The concept for this facility is the result of the feedback we’ve received from judges and our law enforcement partners. Our probation and parole officers need more tools and resources to help people on felony supervision be successful and appropriately intervene when their behavior warrants," Ray said.
Grimm argued that a CRC could encourage recidivism, given the proximity of offenders living next to each other. Grimm said it would make more sense for parolees and probationers to continue living in private residences.
"I would rather prefer that than having 130 people together for up to 18 months. My fear is that they would form their own support network," he said.
"We want to create a new level of accountability for these people," Ray said.
According to Ray, IDOC wouldn't be able to estimate when construction on the potential CRC would begin until a site was selected. Ray didn't provide a timetable as to IDOC's planning process.