Corrections in Idaho has been a rather controversial topic in the last 10 years. With the addition of a new Director of Corrections and recent criminal justice reform legislation it seems we might be making progress. One thing is painfully apparent; business as usual is not business as usual.

The Idaho Department of Corrections has responded to recent criticism by starting a public relations campaign to change the stagnant image of the department with what seems to be very little actual attempts to change the culture. Anything that officials may point to as evidence of progress is either some ambiguous statistic or more disingenuous rhetoric to appear progressive to the public.

In addition to public relations efforts the Idaho Department of Corrections has also done a great deal of blame shifting. The constant vilification of private prison contractor, Corrections Corporation of America has been a mainstay of the Department to avoid accepting responsibility for their part in the mismanagement of the State’s biggest prison the Idaho Correctional Center.

In fact it was the State of Idaho that welcomed CCA to operate here, renewing contract after contract, knowing all along of the systemic violence constantly threatening the security of the prison. Also fact, the Idaho Department of Corrections was, at the very least, compliant in this crisis when they consistently sent difficult to manage or violent prisoners to ICC to avoid dealing with them.

The Idaho Department of Corrections only appeared to show concern about violence and mismanagement when confronted with facts by Associated Press reporter Rebecca Boone.  See her latest article here.

Although Ms. Boone is very talented and her heart was in the right place she got a couple key things wrong. The Associated Press frequently reported that CCA was allegedly turning over certain security functions to gang members. This was never true and is an absolutely ridiculous allegation probably concocted by prisoners and their attorney’s seeking to sue CCA.

The AP also reported that CCA “cherry picked” the most docile, healthy and easy to manage prisoners to house at their facility. As mentioned above this was most certainly not the case. To think that CCA was coordinating the relocation of easy to manage prisoners from State operated facilities to their private operated prison to make their job easier is preposterous as the State was always responsible for coordinating prisoner placement.

In many instances CCA’s hands were tied by the State when attempting to deal with the violence in any kind of meaningful way. But there is no doubt that the constant struggle between the State and CCA only exacerbated an already complex problem. The fact remains that CCA defrauded the tax payers of Idaho of a significant amount of money. The State of Idaho had a chance to recover that money but chose to make a back room deal with the corporation and swept the fraud under the rug.

Two years after CCA’s departure violence is still a huge problem at ISCC, (the State changed the name when they took over), statistics are actually worse according to a local television news story. (Channel 7 News, “Prison Violence” February 2016.)

It is far more fair and accurate to say that there were some things that CCA did better and other things that the State does better. Although Director Kevin Kempf is apparently far more progressive than any of his predecessors, his ideas are far from being realized in Idaho prisons. Until all of Director Kempf s staff invests in his philosophy there will be little to no change at all.

Idaho still largely employs a justice corrections philosophy based on punitive measures to extract the pound of flesh due the people of Idaho therefore abandoning all other correctional goals as set forth by the judiciary. This practice is in direct conflict with the sentencing objectives of the judiciary and hardly justice or correction.


The State of Idaho’s judiciary has decided that although punishment is a valid consideration when sentencing convicted criminals, it is not the ultimate goal. State v. Toohill lays out the sentencing objectives of the judiciary, to be considered in the order they are listed in the decision, starting with the most important consideration first to the least last. The considerations are presented thusly: (1) protection of society (2) deterrence of the individual and the public generally (3) possibility of rehabilitation (4) punishment or retribution for wrong doing.

This is the model that Idaho Judges use when handing out sentences for criminal convictions. Once turned over to the custody of the Idaho Department of Corrections the correctional objective inexplicably shifts with the last and least important objective considered by the judiciary becoming the first and only objective considered by the prison and that is punishing one for their criminal misdeeds. The Idaho Department of Corrections can claim that this is not the case but it would be nothing more than a claim. There is absolutely nothing taking place in Idaho prisons at this time, representative of the Idaho judiciary’s purported goal of protecting society, deterring (other than the complete incapacitation of the prisoner to commit crimes in the community.) or the correction or rehabilitation of prisoners.

The programs that the Idaho Department of Corrections currently uses are nothing more than self diagnosis tools that do absolutely nothing to reform or rehabilitate.

The judiciary considers these objectives in this order because they are extremely valid. These are the reasons we sentence people to prison, to be fixed. Putting a dysftmctional criminal in a box with other dysfunctional criminals, dehumanizing them in every way possible then turning them loose isn’t exactly a sound investment. Director Kempf has alluded to this fact in recent posts on social media. Director Kempf s efforts should be applauded but it’s really going to take more than catchy phrases to achieve any kind of success. So far we’ve heard a lot of people talking about it but very few being about it.


There are three prevailing correctional philosophies in the U.S. The first being the Utilitarian Model, which is punishment for the sake of punishing. This approach is seemingly perfectly acceptable to the people of Idaho and one would be hard pressed to convince them that there is any other legitimate correctional goal.

The Rehabilitation Model, which aims to reform and correct the prisoner. In Idaho this is largely viewed as coddling the prisoner and would not be a popular approach because it does not appeal to the political sensibilities of the majority of the States voting population.

Last is the Justice Model and this is essentially a utilitarian approach that speaks the language of rehabilitation and justice to appear progressive to people who care about rehabilitation and hard on crime to the public. The correctional philosophy in Idaho prisons probably most resembles the justice model. University of Pennsylvania professor Ted Alleman writes in his paper titled “Correctional Philosophies Varying Ideologies,” Although the justice model clearly recognizes the rights of prisoners and advocates a number of measures designed to address inmate concerns, the justice model, to some extent, has been co-opted by utilitarian punishment proponents who find it expedient to justify the implementation of their custody-oriented strategies by speaking the language of justice. Because the justice model takes a passive approach to treatment, the warehousing of prisoners has evolved over the last two decades as a predominant administrative strategy.”

This is just one of the ways that Idaho’s prison system is working against taxpayers, justice and any valid penological goal. Another reason the justice model is flawed, professor Alleman goes on to explain, “It is also difficult to punish and rehabilitate at the same time. The punitive nature can outweigh any potential benefits associated with rehabilitative programming. It is difficult to successfully implement rehabilitative change in punitively oriented prison environments.”

The desired outcome is what should determine the ideology Idaho chooses. If Idaho chooses to concentrate on punishment it cannot somehow expect that the result of that choice will be reform of the prisoner and lowered recidivism. Idaho prisons struggle with recidivism because its correctional philosophy is unbalanced, unrealistic and misaligned with the sentencing objectives of the States judiciary, which consequently, are rather balanced and admirable in their intent.

Although all meaningful change starts with a change in thinking, it is doubtful that Director Kempf s progressive vision will be realized during his tenure. Kempf seems to genuinely want meaningful and lasting change that will result in safer communities and lowered recidivism.

It will take a concerted effort from legislators, the judiciary and the executive office to change laws and align the functions and goals of its operating branches of state government. These branches were originally designed to complement each other and work together. Currently in Idaho these branches and their functions work against each other.

Even if Kempf wants positive and meaningful change, his attitude and ideas will not transcend the cultural make-up of the Idaho Department of Corrections. If the staff doesn’t buy into these ideas from top to bottom, corrections will remain an out of date governmental function doomed to failure. So far at the ISCC Idaho’s largest prison, we have seen the results of the IDOC’s, “Beat them into submission with an iron fist approach”. Violence has gone up along with frustrations and overcrowding. The IDOC currently enjoys the advantage of a disengaged, unorganized and unsophisticated prison population. However it is through popular struggle and unrest that organization traditionally takes place. The Idaho Department of Corrections could right the ship with some effort but probably will not because this would require Kempf to convince his staff, the Governor, the public and the media that prisoners need anything other than punishment. Prisoners are in prison to be rehabilitated not to be punished. The punishment is being removed from society and their families and placed into a tumultuous environment. The sooner we figure this out the better.