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Rules on re-entry

by MADISON HARDY
Staff Writer | August 28, 2020 1:07 AM

Idaho has one of the lowest crime rates in the country but one of the highest incarceration rates, according to Idaho Department of Correction data. Of that portion, a large percentage of those who are incarcerated become repeat offenders.

During a public hearing Thursday evening, the Planning and Zoning Commission finalized a preliminary ordinance regarding Kootenai County re-entry centers.

As defined by the planning and zoning commission, the re-entry facility would allow "offenders to work while becoming reunited with families and the community." It would additionally offer certain offenders near their release date "a chance to prepare themselves for release" through county employment links.

The re-entry center, operated by the Idaho Department of Correction (IDOC), would provide counseling, job possibilities, drug testing, and a chance for sober re-entry into the community.

Earlier this year, 78% of Kootenai County voters opposed the possibility of a re-entry center in the area.

At Thursday's meeting, all residents who testified echoed this dissent and expressed concern for its placement in Kootenai County. Citing concerns with the drafted ordinance such as proximity to schools and residential neighborhoods, the facility's economic impact on the community, its detriment to residents' quality of life, and size.

"I'd like to see rules because it's mostly going to be drug and sex offenders, which we house," Hayden resident Russell McLain said. "I'd like to see some really tight rules on where it's placed. Specifically, I'd like to see it several mile distances from the schools."

During the hearing, Hayden City Council member Matthew Roetter discussed the lack of trust residents and officials have for the IDOC.

"I don't trust them. I think you need to write this in a way that you recognize that you can't trust what they do," Roetter said. "I would like to see as much accountability by the county as possible, and I think their plan needs to be scrutinized by the people."

When the facility's idea was posed in March, Kootenai County's Land Use and Development Code did not have any provisions on re-entry center developments. Without any regulations, the county was left susceptible to a state decision to move forward with a re-entry center application. Therefore if one were established, the county would have minimal authority over location or restrictions.

The ordinance discussed Thursday is an effort by the commission to create a specific land-use code amendment regarding possible re-entry centers.

Under the proposed amendment, re-entry centers would be subject to a conditional permit process, including public review and area compatibility.

Part of the ordinance recommendations constitutes potential facility construction only in commercial, mining, and light industrial zones. The facility would be on a minimum 3-acre property with enough space to house anywhere from nine to 100 offenders - reduced from the typical 130. Additionally, the center must be at least 2,500 feet - up from the previously recommended 1,000 feet - from residential facilities, child-care facilities, place of assembly and worship, community centers, and public or private schools.

"This is the first step in a long process. There are many more opportunities for the public to submit input to the county commissioners," chairman of the planning and zoning commission David Levine said. "Having this move forward is safer than trying to delay anything if the state decides to get something done before we're ready."

An updated version of the ordinance will be updated by Kootenai County legal counselor Pat Braden and given to the Kootenai County board of commissioners.

Ordinance info: https://keepingkootenai.com/faqs