Sen. Patti Anne Lodge, R-Huston, has introduced a bill in the Idaho Senate to expand inmate labor programs at Idaho agricultural operations.

BOISE — Sen. Patti Anne Lodge, R-Huston, is trying again with her legislation to expand inmate labor programs at Idaho agricultural operations.

Her bill last year, SB 1208, passed the Senate, 34-1, but was amended in the House, and the Senate opted not to go along with the amendment. The measure would have expanded inmate farm labor programs to any Idaho agricultural operation, not just those involving production, harvesting or processing of perishable ag products.

This year’s bill does the same, but also changes the language of the current law to make clear that the inmates are in job-training programs, removing all references to “inmate labor,” and are not employees of either the state or any agricultural operation. They would be paid a stipend.

Several-hundred minimum-security inmates, both men and women, have participated in the program, sorting and packing potatoes in eastern Idaho or picking and packing fruit in the Treasure Valley.

“The main goal of this program is to reduce recidivism,” Lodge told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Jan. 30. She noted that state Corrections Director Josh Tewalt told the panel recently that up to 70 percent of Idaho prisoners return to prison within three years after they’re released.

“That’s just too much,” Lodge said.

Giving the inmates an opportunity to get back into a work environment will both give them skills they’ll need to survive as law-abiding citizens after release, and allow them to earn some money toward restitution, court costs and re-entry into society, she said.

“It’s not a work program — it’s a training program so they can get the experience they need to be better citizens so they can care for themselves and their families,” Lodge said.

The program operates under Idaho’s Correctional Industries program, which provides job training and work experience opportunities for inmates in a variety of ways, from making license plates to manufacturing office furniture for government offices.

The committee voted unanimously to introduce the bill, clearing the way for a full hearing. Sen. Todd Lakey, R-Nampa, the committee chair, told Lodge,

“Thank you, Sen. Lodge — appreciate your persistence on this matter,” Lakey said.

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