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Boise Beforehand

Correctional vs. penal; druggies vs. convicts


In 2007, we wonder where the George Bush White House is taking us on evidence, on search and seizure, indefinite detention, and exceptions to Geneva conventions that only yesterday had left torture behind as a tool of modern governments.

On May 13, 1966, over 40 years ago, penal policy was a state and not a federal issue, when the Idaho Observer weekly published an interview by its associate editor Dwight Wm. Jensen. Jensen asked Tully McRae of San Francisco if Idaho was doing the right thing. Should it be sinking $12 million in a new penitentiary just south of Boise, or should it be beefing up the prison staff and its rehab efforts? Western director of the National Council on Crime and Delinquency, McRae answered: "You would be better to spend the money on staff. But you should be able to afford to do both; ... part of your problem is that salary rates are far below the national average.

"Other Western states have the same problem. But you seem to be having even more difficulty than they ... I wouldn't work in such a situation for all the money in the world." McRae was referring to the penitentiary's administrative structure: the warden, assistant warden and associate warden who also served as the policy-making State Board of Corrections. Further: "We used to build (penitentiaries) to keep people from escaping. Now we build them to provide for treatment programs. They should be considered correctional, not penal." As to security measures, such as Idaho's once-notorious "hole," he said: Isolation is sometimes necessary, "but any treatment should be entirely human so that you can keep the prisoner's respect. No human being should ever be deprived of dignity under any circumstances." As to the 2006 state preoccupation with druggies as detainees, nary a word in the 1966 interview.

Publisher's note:

These notes from Perry Swisher, publisher of The Intermountain in Pocatello from 1952-1967 and Idaho Observer in Boise and former Idaho legislator, provide a glimpse into the not-so-long-ago past bringing perspective on where we have been and where we are going. He has kindly provided insight based on old copies of both publications that were graciously provided to us recently by a reader while cleaning out the garage. "Boise Beforehand" will appear occasionally in Boise Weekly.