The U.S. incarcerates more people than any other country, and Idaho is higher than the U.S. average for (per-capita) incarceration:
This makes Idaho among the most incarcerating places in the world — ever. When factored against our low crime rate, it could be that Idaho is the most incarcerating among states in the U.S. (possibly 2nd after Kentucky).
Thus it’s not surprising that Idaho’s prisons are overcrowded and understaffed. The Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy sums it up this way:
Policy choices in the last 40 years have fueled growth in the prison population. Idaho, along with many other states, adopted policies that would lengthen prison terms as a response to federal approaches to crime rates in the 1980s and 1990s. Mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses in Idaho were enacted in 1992. Idaho is one of three states – along with New Hampshire and Nevada – that requires people in prison to serve 100 percent of their fixed terms, a result of the truth-in-sentencing laws that lengthened terms starting in the 1980s. Idaho has a habitual offender law – or three strikes law – that requires a third felony to result in a minimum five-year term. Across the nation, lengths of prison stays have increased by 33 percent from 1993 to 2009.1 Yet, no strong scientific evidence shows that these policies have made communities safer.
Here are recent articles and reports, and a few books, that will educate you about a very complex situation:
IDAHO STATESMAN, JULY 15, 2021
Major understaffing in Idaho prisons raises risks
IDAHO STATESMAN, FEBRUARY 03, 2020
Opinion: Idaho’s overcrowded prisons cannot be fixed simply by building more of them
IDAHO STATESMAN, OCTOBER 3, 2018
Idaho Statesman: You asked: Who does Idaho send to prison? And what if we sent fewer people?
IDAHO CENTER FOR FISCAL POLICY
Reform Revisited: The Future of Criminal Justice in Idaho
2020 Citizen Centric Report (basic demographics, etc)