Who stays in and who gets out? A look at Idaho's parole system

Who stays in and who gets out? KBOI 2's Sierra Oshrin spoke with the Parole Commission's Executive Director to find out. (File Photo)

Five parole commissioners from different backgrounds decide the fate of hundreds of prisoners each month.

Cortney Dennis, Janie Dressen, Lisa Growette-Bostaph, Mike Matthews and R. David Moore make up the Commission on Pardons and Parole selected by Governor Otter.

The group meets on a monthly basis, figuring out how to keep the public safe while also giving inmates a chance to be rehabilitated in the community.

Sandy Jones is the executive director of the Commission. She's worked across the country from Pennysylvania to Montana to Idaho. She says the biggest difference between the Gem State and others, in terms of criminal justice, is the lack of resources.

"Idaho certainly has a forward thinking criminal justice system. But we're missing resources in the community that are pretty essential for offenders to be successful," Jones said.

Parole commissioners take many things into account when making their decision. Mental health, institutional behavior, the crime, rehabilitation and the risk that they'll do it again are all considered on an individual basis.

Jones says one of the most difficult cases is when an inmate has committed an extremely violent crime, but has been doing well while completing their fixed term. She says even if they've been a model inmate, it's hard to ignore the crime that happened.

A "fixed sentence" is the amount of time inmates must serve behind prison bars. However, they can finish the rest of their sentence out in the community on parole.

Inmates usually start meeting with the commission six months before their fixed sentence is complete. If commissioners deny a parole request, they would set another hearing date. Jones says typically it's around a year out.

Since January 1, the parole commission has granted 616 inmates parole and denied 492. Jones says it's a balancing act between keeping the public safe, and letting people out of a crowded prison which costs tax payers every day.

"Letting people out on parole is sometimes a lot of work for a parole officer and for that person. But when it's successful, it's really worth it. Cost wise and in terms of lives," Jones said.