Should ex-convicts get to return to school?


Sen. Lee Heider, R-Twin Falls.

The head of the state’s prison system is skeptical of a bill that would make Idaho high schools off-limits to convicted criminals.

But the sponsor, Twin Falls Republican Sen. Lee Heider, has 27 grandchildren in Magic Valley schools — he says he wants these schools to be kept as safe as possible.

With little discussion and no objection, the Senate Education Committee introduced Heider’s Senate Bill 1056 Tuesday. That means the bill could come back to the committee for a full hearing.

Heider’s case centers on an incident in a Magic Valley high school. Heider won’t identify the school, but in committee, he offered a detailed account. He said two convicted felons enrolled in the school, started gangs, began trafficking drugs and impregnated two girls.

“I think we have a scenario that may be played out in all schools in Idaho, or at least has the potential to be,” Heider said.

His bill would deny school enrollment to anyone who has been convicted of a violent misdemeanor or felony, resulting in at least a one-year sentence. The lone exception: Students would be allowed into school if their case has been closed for at least five years.

Heider said parents brought the Magic Valley case to his attention last winter, but too late for him to present a bill during the 2012 session. He said he worked on the bill last summer with former Sen. Denton Darrington, a Declo Republican who retired last year after 30 years in the Legislature.

Nonetheless, the bill caught corrections agencies off-guard.


Brent Reinke, Idaho Department of Correction

Correction Department Director Brent Reinke said he knew nothing about the bill until Wednesday afternoon, when Idaho Education News showed him the wording. After reading the bill over, he voiced reservations.

“It’s something I’m concerned about, because school dropout (rates are) a significant risk factor,” he said.

Idaho hasn’t done its own research, Reinke said, but the numbers in other states are stark: Between 40 and 45 percent of dropouts wind up in the correction system.

In an interview Wednesday morning, Heider said he hadn’t discussed the bill with Correction officials. “The view of the correctional institution is really the least of our concern,” he said.

Juvenile offenders are rarely sent to adult prisons, so Heider’s bill would have little direct effect on Reinke’s department. That’s not the case with the state’s Department of Juvenile Corrections — which found out about the bill through a media report from Tuesday’s committee meeting.

Juvenile Corrections has no position on the bill, spokesman Monty Prow said. “We’re still reviewing it.”

However, the bill would inevitably affect Juvenile Corrections’ operations.

On Wednesday, Juvenile Corrections had 318 convicted offenders in custody. The average sentence is 18.1 months — well beyond the one-year threshold established in Heider’s bill.

Offenders in Juvenile Corrections centers attend class at least 5 hours a day, year-round — and about a fifth of the department’s $36.7 million budget goes into education, Prow said. Some juvenile offenders leave with a diploma or a GED; others work on course credits, and, upon release, go back to their old school.

Heider says juvenile offenders do not need to return to public high school as hardened criminal “predators,” and can get their GED or learn a trade elsewhere. “I’m not suggesting we throw them to the wolves.”

  • Greg Arndt

    Great story. Voters need to know how their elected officials think (or don’t).

  • Michael Murray

    Sorry, this law would probably only affect juveniles and not the adult system. Maybe Mr. Heider is not aware that the United States now has more people incarcerated than China. Because of the types of laws Mr. Heider seems inclined to pass, one in about eighteen adults in Idaho is now on some form of probation or parole, or so the last set of statistics I read indicated. I’m sure Mr. Heider is also aware of the opportunities denied to those with criminal convictions, which results in more young folks, probably young males who wind up incarcerated. This idea is ludicrous and the last thing we need. Maybe schools should focus more on dealing with young people with behavior and/or mental problems and reasons to keep them in school rather than denying a whole class of citizens a chance for a normal future. Maybe the legislature, or Mr. Heider in particular should focus on real problems such as the proliferation of Payday load businesses in Twin Falls.

  • Kevin S. Wilson

    Correction Department Director Brent Reinke cites statistics from other states showing that between 40 and 45 percent of dropouts wind up in the correction system, so this misguided legislation seems a particularly effective way to keep the School-to-Prison Pipeline running at full throttle. The additional benefit, of course, is that it helps to supply lots of new customers to the corporations that we’ve allowed to privatize the prison system. The only thing surprising about this unsurprisingly retrograde idea is that its sponsor, Sen. Lee Heider, didn’t have the foresight to market it as education reform.

  • Tom von Alten

    Something about the Senator’s productivity makes me think of the below-market price of grazing rights on public lands.

    But regardless of his personal interest, this is a remarkably bad idea, as Kevin Wilson expressed succinctly.

  • Ed DePriest

    How about requiring the parents of the convicted felon, who is still a minor and the responsibility of that parent, to pay for that felon to receive education in a private school. Better yet, how about placing these convicted felons in a charter school. Because after all, if you believe the hype, charter schools turn struggling students into valedictorians with their masterful methods and techniques that general public schools are lacking. Let’s give the charter schools a chance to show the world how they can change the lives of children.
    I personally wouldn’t want my children exposed to a convicted felon on a daily basis. Let’s stop playing games and trying to say that teens with felonies are just misguided youth. Many are, and have been, habitual discipline problems, willful failures, and have shown no inclination to do anything but what they want to do. That is usually why they end up being felons at that age. They don’t want to follow any rules or behavior expectations.
    I appreciate Mr. Heider having the guts to call it as it is. The pendulum must start back in the other direction. This kinder-gentler, touch-feely, approach over the past 40 years is a big reason that we are where we are today. Maybe when kids and parents start to realize that the consequences of inappropriate actions and behavior will result in circumstances that have life-long consequences, instead of just a pat on the wrist and a don’t do it again, things will change for the better.