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From the Inside Looking Out

"It's far from perfect, but it's so much better than it was."

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Idahoans are still recovering from a marathon election season. Much of 2010 was filled with debate, some of it coarse, surrounding Idaho's two biggest departments: Public Education and Health and Welfare. But candidates bypassed the third largest agency: Correction. With a budget of $145.7 million in general funds and a staff of more than 1500, the Gem State's prison system has become the third rail of Idaho politics.

Yet IDOC finds itself at a crossroads. In the face of austere budget cuts, officials have decided to lock down complacency. They've chosen to be proactive in crafting new rehabilitation and treatment initiatives instead of simply warehousing offenders.

"Make no mistake. It is prison," IDOC Director Brent Reinke said. "But it's prison with a purpose."

For any Idaho legislator looking for immediate cost benefits, they're bound to be disappointed. However, a deeper look into the numbers reveals cost avoidance. Simply put, investment into new programs is expected to result in further escalation of spending on Idaho's inmate population while improving opportunities for rehabilitation.

"We're really putting the boots on the ground to implement these new processes," said Reinke. "And we're starting to see significant improvements. In fiscal years 2008 and 2009 we had no growth. In 2010, we grew by about 3 percent. Traditionally, this department used to grow by about 6 percent in each fiscal year. If you want to quantify that in cost avoidance, so far to date, that's about $33 million."

But Reinke is first to admit that it's a tough sell.

"Oh boy," he said, shaking his head. "In this environment? Absolutely. You see, we can't really determine how many inmates there will be or how long they'll stay with us."

Reinke and his staff may hold the keys, but they can't control the front or back doors. Courts hand down the sentences and the Idaho Commission of Pardons and Parole determines releases. Reinke is quick to say that parole is a separate entity from his department.

"It is a stand-alone commission," said Reinke. "Historically, there have been challenges with the parole system. But I need to tell you that we work every day to make certain that the right inmate is in the right cell for the right length of time, so that when they go before parole, the commission is apt to give them a chance."

Reinke said it's no surprise that the parole commission is the subject of the greatest amount of conversation and rumor among inmates and their families.

Mike McCurdy ought to know. He has spent nearly a decade in Idaho prisons. He was incarcerated twice for driving under the influence. He spent four years in prison, only to be released, repeat his offense and spend five more years behind bars. He has been a free man for the last three-and-a-half years. His life's mission now is as a reporter. He writes and helps publish a quarterly newsletter for the organization, Friends and Families of Idaho Inmates. It's packed with statistics and updates primarily on matters concerning the parole commission.

"The guys in prison really don't have any resource," said McCurdy. "Many of them can barely read or write. Someone on the outside can get information that would take someone on the inside several weeks to get."

McCurdy made a point of praising IDOC.

"They've been real good in helping distribute our newsletter," said McCurdy.

However, McCurdy said his newsletter is threatened. After more than a dozen years of spreading the word to thousands of inmates, friends and families, the organization has run out of money. McCurdy said it doesn't even have enough to print or mail the latest newsletter.

"I read it every time it comes out," said Reinke. "Anytime there's more communication, it's a good thing."

But when BW asked Reinke about inmates complaining about not enough communication, he wasn't surprised.

"Not at all," said Reinke. "Look, when a person comes to prison, they enter a time warp. The world goes on. Their families change. Their children grow up. But the prisoner is stuck in the same time and place."

Prisoner 29021 has been stuck in that warp. He has spent two decades at the Idaho South Correctional Institute. And he's not leaving anytime soon.

Barrett Enno is 40 years old. He stands about 5'6" and is all muscle. He bench presses more than 200 pounds in the weight room. His dark features don't match his soft-spoken demeanor, but his past is anything but soft.

"I was a chauffeur and bodyguard when I was 18," Enno said.

As dozens of inmates surrounded him on a recreation break at ISCI, Enno told an ugly tale.

"I worked for a guy who was into a lot of criminal activity. I was doing a lot of drinking and drugs. I met a lady at a bar in Pocatello. She was an associate of my boss. We went into a mountain area outside of Pocatello."

Long pause.

"And I killed her."

Enno strangled his victim. He left her body abandoned in the woods. Two days later, police came looking for him. He didn't even try to run.

In 1988, Enno was convicted of First degree murder. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

That's not to say that Enno has given up on the possibility of a new life.

For one, he has a relationship with a Boise woman. She asked to be called "Kay" to protect her identity. She and Enno were very cautious about their words, for fear of being misinterpreted. The two said they thought Enno had a chance of being released someday.

"Once a year I'm allowed to write a letter to the parole commission requesting commutation of my sentence," said Enno. "My next letter will be in March. My trial judge told my attorney that, in hindsight, he should have only sentenced me to 25 years. And even the prosecutor agreed. So they're writing letters on my behalf."

Enno and his girlfriend hope to be together as a traditional couple someday. Until then, they hope and pray.

"I've devoted my life to God and to him," said Kay. "And I will stand behind him no matter what."

Kay said she met Enno as a pen pal several years ago. Now, she visits him at ISCI every Friday and Sunday.

"I know people look at us and say, 'How can you truly love somebody that's incarcerated and that you can only see twice a week?' And I ask you this question: 'If you loved someone and somehow you were separated, it wouldn't make you love them any less, would it?'"

And now, they're engaged. Kay said Enno asked her to be his bride a few months ago. He even ordered a ring and had it mailed to her.

"We would like to be married the day he walks out that door," said Kay. But when pressed, she admitted, "If it begins to look like he's not going to get out, I would definitely marry him in prison."

Enno is just one of about 560 "lifers" in Idaho prisons. Reinke said just because they may never get out, doesn't mean they don't have a rehabilitation plan.

"Every inmate in state custody has a designated pathway," said Reinke. "They're assigned a case manager who will oversee education, treatment and rehabilitation."

IDOC has recently introduced a trio of options for offender treatment. The Correctional Alternative Placement Program was unveiled this summer. CAPP is an intense 90-day focus on substance-abuse issues for parolees and probationers. Retained jurisdiction, also known as the traditional Rider Program, is targeted at offenders with substance-abuse and education issues. In September, a Therapeutic Community Rider Program was introduced, providing intensive rehabilitation and education to high-risk inmates for a full year.

"In the past, someone would receive similar services over the course of three years," said Reinke. "The sentence will still be up to the courts, but now there are more intensive rehabilitation-driven options available. And the time frame is much shorter."

Reinke said he's prepared for another tough go-round with state lawmakers in 2011 when it comes time to fight for budget dollars, but he said IDOC has a compelling story to share.

"It's far from perfect, but it's so much better than it was."

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