BOISE — Idaho Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Burdick, in his “State of the Judiciary” address to the House and Senate on Wednesday, noted that all three branches of Idaho’s state government, including the judicial branch, launched a justice reinvestment initiative four years ago.
“The Legislature examined ways to approach criminal sentencing and corrections more efficiently,” Burdick said. “This significant change has had mixed results, but we in the courts realize there are better ways to handle criminality than building bigger jails and prisons.
“During this time of change and analysis, the Idaho Prosecutors Association and Department of Corrections both agree our district judges are appropriately sentencing criminals,” Burdick told lawmakers, “and now the question remains what is the best method to protect society while rehabilitating those in the system. We must all remember 90 percent or more of these individuals will return to our neighborhoods.”
Adding more probation officers, rehabilitation services and halfway houses are all moves that Idaho judges support, Burdick said. "We continue to support efforts for more local placement and resources. Our successful problem-solving courts (including drug courts) are just one of many approaches. They are seen as an innovative body to balance risk and rehabilitation.”
Burdick also praised lawmakers for their work on the issue. “We applaud your bold initiative to reinvest in local support and options to incarceration,” he told them. “At the same time we continue to be acutely aware of our number one priority — to protect the public.”
Burdick also discussed challenges facing the courts and accomplishments in areas ranging from technology to public defense to access to courts, in a state with both an aging and growing population. He noted that everything Idaho’s courts have accomplished has been done with just a 1.3 percent share of the state's general fund budget, compared to a national average of about 3 percent.
Burdick told lawmakers, "Although an independent co-equal branch of government, we rise or fall based upon cooperation."
House Speaker Scott Bedke said he agreed. "We understand our responsibilities in that partnership,” he told Burdick.
Betsy Z. Russell is the Boise bureau chief and state capitol reporter for the Idaho Press and Adams Publishing Group. Follow her on Twitter at @BetsyZRussell.