Idaho prisons get overhauled by new director

Posted at 7:38 AM, Nov 19, 2015
and last updated 2015-11-19 09:38:00-05

Idaho's prison system is getting a total overhaul. From inmate treatment to staff support the new state director says it's high time Idaho comes into the 21st century.

It used to be called “Gladiator School” for the number of fights that broke out. Under management of the private company Corrections Corporation of America, the Idaho State Correctional Center was extremely dangerous.

But state lawmakers took control back and placed the prison in the hands of Kevin Kempf. He has a different take on prison management.

"There was a time when I absolutely believed and said out loud 'let's just lock these guys up and throw away the key.' I believed that,” said Kempf. “Frankly, a lot of people say that and it feels good to say that but here's the news: that's not reality. The reality is that 97 percent of these guys are going to walk out of these prisons. Whether you like it or not, they're coming out."

Appointed last December, Kempf has wasted no time to restructure. He's done away with so called dry cells and solitary confinement.

"It's been proven over and over that putting an inmate in that type on environment for a long period of time creates more mental health issues," he said.

Kempf talks a lot about research and analysis. He says it only makes sense to ensure taxpayer dollars are getting results. One study he commissioned showed out of 12 community programs, nine were ineffective.

"When we're putting about $7.5 million in our programs each year, it's my responsibility to make sure we're putting that towards something that works," said Kempf.

The new director wants his department to be transparent, opening up state facilities to state lawmakers and the media.

"When we pull back the curtains you're going to see things in our system that probably need to be improved, that look weird or odd,” said Kempf. “My responsibility as the director, our responsibility as a staff is to be open."

The department of correction will soon be rolling out a new community mentor program. Parolees can connect with community or faith-based outlets to help transition into society.