- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 23, 2014

CALDWELL, Idaho (AP) - Officials in southwest Idaho have created an alternative sentencing program that’s intended to reduce the number of inmates at the Canyon County Jail.

Canyon County commissioners announced Monday that local judges will have the option of assigning community service rather than jail time to some misdemeanor offenders, The Idaho Press-Tribune reported (http://bit.ly/1vaaby8 ).

The decision follows Canyon County Sheriff Kieran Donahue’s move in late July to suspend the inmate labor program and transfer officers to the jail to maintain the federally mandated number of officers.

County Commissioner Kathy Alder says the sheriff’s decision prompted commissioners to focus on the issue.

“That made us really focus on our alternative sentencing programs to see if there was a way we could expand them,” Alder said.

“The main goal is to give these individuals an opportunity to repay the community for their offense, be it a DUI or a petit theft, in a meaningful way,” Chief Misdemeanor Probation Officer Jeff Breach said. “We also try to match the defendants and their skills with the various needs in our community, which is a huge benefit for everyone.”

For example, a defendant who used to work in the food service industry would be paired with a nonprofit that delivers meals to seniors.

One full-time administrator will coordinate with the nonprofits and monitor the inmates’ progress to make sure they complete their required hours. About 120 offenders are sentenced to the program.

The program is the latest attempt to alleviate Canyon County’s ballooning inmate population in a jail that’s too small to house them all. The jail opened in 1993, when the county population was 90,000. Now the population is roughly 200,000 but the jail still only holds 400 inmates.

A lawsuit on jail overcrowding limits the number of inmates, but Canyon County voters have rejected jail bond proposals.

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Information from: Idaho Press-Tribune, http://www.idahopress.com

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