Drug Courts - Can we make them more effective?
Mass Incarceration Prison Reforms

Idaho Courts Rehabilitate Returning Felons by Keeping Them OUT of Prisons

The special courts of Idaho target lawbreakers who are at a high risk of reoffending. Once they plead guilty, they are enrolled in one of the state’s special programs, instead of being sentences to prisons. 

In Idaho, drug courts are just one of the many problem-solving courts available. Ada County’s Drug Court is one of them. The special courts target people who break laws and are at a high risk of re-offending.


Drug Courts - Can we make them more effective?
Drug Courts – Can we make them more effective? Image Source: CSDP

Once they have pleaded guilty, they are enrolled in a program that takes 1 to 2 years to complete. During the program, an offender is expected to:

  • Undergo regular drug tests
  • Hold down a job
  • Pay restitution
  • Undergo drug treatment
  • Appear in court regularly to show their progress

If a candidate excels in the program, they graduate. After graduation, their charges will be dismissed completely or reduced.

On the other hand, if they fail the program, they are sent back to prison to serve their term in full.

The Purpose of the Special Courts of Idaho

The main aim of these courts, according to the Administrative Director of Idaho Courts Sara Thomas, is to cause a fundamental change in the lives of the individuals.

It is not a way of keeping people out of prison gates. And, what are these “fundamental changes”?

The drug and problem-solving courts were established in Idaho in 1998. Since then, the courts have seen over 20,000 offenders pass through the program. At least 7,000 of those have graduated.

According to a report released in 2017, the graduation rate of the programs from the Idaho courts was roughly 60.4%.

It is not an easy program. The program is demanding and requires toughness. Each offender has to adjust to its structure and follow instructions to the letter. According to the director of this program, Baker Burton, this is the hardest thing she can imagine.

Recidivism is always a challenge when it comes to behavior changing institutions. Participants in Idaho’s felony drug court had a 39% recidivism rate.

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Cost of the Special Courts in Idaho

Counties, where the courts are located, must pay some of the managerial costs. Treatment programs are carried out by the Department of Health and Welfare. The probation officers are provided by the Department of Correction.

According to a report from 2014, the cost of serving a felony offender a year in the drug programs of the courts is about $4,000. $20,000 per annum is the cost of holding the same offender in a regular prison. Ada County’s budget for the drug court is about $454,000.

Hillary Clark has undergone the program. During the spring of 2009, Clark was broke. She needed money for marijuana and methamphetamines.

Clark used the drugs to cope with her setbacks in life. She came up with a plan. That’s when she wrote bad checks to get cash in return. With this plan, she ended up stealing a lot of money from the banks.

This did not last long. She ended up on the wrong side of the law. Clark was arrested on a felony warrant. After serving a few weeks in jail, she enrolled in one of the programs. As an inmate, she graduated in August 2011.

Hillary Clark never went back to prison. Today, she is the secretary of the Ada County Problem Solving Courts, the same place that transformed her life.

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Abigael Shem
Abigael Shem has eight years of experience in academic, content, research and creative writing, editing and proofreading. Developing any type of content is now an easy task for her. When she's not writing, she enjoys singing, dancing, hiking, traveling and sports, especially football and basketball. Abigael currently writes news for prison loved ones on Prison Rideshare Network.