Re-entry center not a done deal — or dead, either

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More information is needed before Kootenai County can determine if itís ready and willing to house the 130-bed halfway house ó more formally called a re-entry center ó for prison inmates transitioning back into society.

The easy answer is to say hell no: If you build it, they will con.

We get that. Common sense suggests that putting a welcome mat out for scores of people who did bad things isnít the fastest route to enhancing public safety or sprucing up the olí neighborhood. But the issue warrants a much closer look, and the answering of key questions.

Among the latter: Who exactly would be sent here? What were their crimes? Where were they when they committed the crimes? The proposal should be DOA if the state corrections department plans to drop non-North Idahoans with records of violence into Kootenai Countyís lap. No deal.

If, on the other hand, the re-entry center houses people from North Idaho who committed non-violent crimes like those involving use of drugs, then further discussion is needed. And hereís why.

Many inmates, upon release, go back to the place they came from. Thatís because family and familiarity are powerful lures. Yes, the lures can be positive or negative, but the fact is, prison populations from our neck of the woods will likely be coming back here with or without transitional help. If they donít get that assistance, the likelihood that theyíll reoffend increases significantly. So assuming theyíre going to be here anyway, would you prefer they simply get dropped on the streets, or that theyíre close to family support and engaged in meaningful work?

Corrections officials say re-entry inmates are supervised 24/7 and must adhere to rules, including curfew. At the stateís four other re-entry centers so far this year, not a single inmate has walked away. The threat of legions of hardened criminals running amok in lax and liberal communities isnít materializing anywhere else in the state, so thereís little reason to believe it would here.

Itís hard to argue against the benefits to society of effective transition programs. While employed, community-release inmates pay child support, restitution, court fees and cost of supervision as well as a 35% surcharge that subsidizes the cost of their time at the center. They also provide community service. Thatís in stark contrast to the average ex-con who just shows up one day.

Until Corrections answers more questions, the $12 million facility should remain in limbo. But when the answers emerge and citizens are asked for their input, there might be more to consider than instinct otherwise suggests.

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