Re-entry Center

Weighing in on the current debate about whether Kootenai County should accept an Idaho Department of Corrections re-entry center, I am on the “pro” side. As a teacher and administrator at Anchor House/Idaho Youth Ranch for twenty years working with troubled, traumatized youth, I am aware of our community’s need for resources for persons young and old in the correctional system. We need to end our tendency to respond, “Not in My Backyard,” and consider the merits of the proposal.

I have two main points to make regarding resources and oversight.

First, Kootenai County is one of the most prosperous, generous, populous, well-appointed, desirable, and fast-growing counties in our state. We have an abundance of resources supported and used by our citizens. Inevitably we will continue to contribute to the population of incarcerated individuals. We should as well contribute our fair share of ideas, effort, and commitment into solutions for successfully integrating those people back into our community. As a responsible and capable community, we must build our own “community capacity” to provide services and accept a facility in our midst for those individuals to re-enter our community as fellow responsible and productive citizens.

One need only to reflect a few seconds to realize all that our county has to offer in contrast to many of our beautiful and valued rural counties who haven’t resources adequate for even their current residents. Consider, for example, the 46 counties who have cut their school week to 4 days for lack of adequate educational funding, or rural residents who must drive long distances for medical appointments. Most are losing population as their residents move to find jobs elsewhere.

In Coeur d’Alene by contrast, there is currently an abundance of “now hiring” signs throughout the county, most visibly in entry level positions–just count the number of such signs as you drive Appleway and Best. Our abundance of readily accessible resources for all our citizens can accommodate a few more corrections clients. The construction and staffing of the facility itself will provide additional good-paying jobs to our citizens.

Second, I understand the concern by many of the risk of re-offense of those corrections clients and the distrust of the Dept of Corrections’ assurance that the facility will pose a low risk. At least a partial solution is a citizens’ oversight committee as part of the county’s agreement should we accept the facility. Some of you who are skeptical of the facility might be among the most effective members of such a committee by asking critical questions. It’s essential that the Department of Corrections experience oversight and be held accountable to its promises and plan for success.

Governor Brad Little stated clearly the need for solutions in his January State of the State address to the Idaho Legislature: “The cost of investing in proven interventions that help inmates turn their lives around before they re-offend is fractional to the cost of incarceration. We have a choice. We can either invest in measures designed to reduce the demand for prison beds and promote safer communities, or we can do nothing and ensure the next check we write is larger than the last.”

We in Kootenai County need to be a constructive part of the solution.

By Paula Neils