Radical changes in Idaho prison life underway

IDOC director working to change prison life.

NAMPA -- For most prisoners in Idaho, life behind bars doesn't mirror real life. The director of the Idaho Department of Correction says it's time that changes.

He was one of a select number of prison leaders from the United States invited to Norway in September to see firsthand why they set the gold standard for correction. Now, IDOC Director Kevin Kempf is working to implement the lessons he learned here at home.

Kempf says he was selected to go to Norway because the department is viewed as an agency that is open to progressing and changing their traditional ways.

Even more so since his visit, Director Kempf's sights are set on getting every prisoner working or learning. Through that approach, it is proven that inmates will be more prepared for life if - and when - they get back into our communities, and less likely to wind up back behind bars.

"That's what real life looks like," Kempf added.

Raymond Kyle is one of 85 male offenders classified as community and minimum custody who spend their nights at Nampa's Community Reentry Center. Kempf says these are inmates who have proven to behave themselves. While serving his sentence at the reentry center, Kyle spends his days working at a car shop in Nampa.

"It basically just teaches you routine that when you get out there you're not going to have a lot of time to go out and do the things you were doing where you didn't have employment," Kyle said.

Before being moved to Nampa CRC, Kyle was in Idaho's Maximum Security Institution.

"That's kind of like the bottom of the bottom, where you never think you're going to have any opportunity," Kyle added. "You're in your cell 23 hours, out of it for an hour of recreation."

That is not what a normal day looks like for you and me.

MORE: 'This isn't working': Overhauls in Idaho's prison system

"The thought about those guys getting out tomorrow or next week or something... we're not doing the community any favors by letting them do that," Kempf told KTVB. "I feel the weight of this responsibility as the director to do something: to get these guys moving, get them working, to get them learning, so when they get out they can be successful."

During his time in Norway, Kempf learned about the principle of normality, which means making life on the inside of prison walls mirror what it looks like outside of prison.

"All inmates in Norway either work or learn every day," Kempf said. "We've got to take a similar approach all the way through our system."

"I think the best way that inmates can apologize to their victims is by getting the opportunity to be [at a Community Reentry Center], going out and working, fending for themselves and their families, and showing people that we can make it," Kyle told KTVB.

Kempf says right now most inmates in Idaho don't have those opportunities, so IDOC is focusing their efforts on making that happen.

The department has already started that process through partnerships such as with the Boise Bicycle Project and South Boise Women's Correctional Center fixing up bicycles for the inmates when they are released.

IDOC also conducts work projects such as one they did recently where inmates planted crops. They are also expanding their Correctional Industries, and working to reduce recidivism.

"We're just getting more and more inmates busy. I mean that's the bottom line," Kempf added.

But, he says, they still have a lot of work to do. He also wants to hear from the community about the kinds of innovative programs the department can be working on.

Copyright 2016 KTVB


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