A glimpse inside immigration detention centers



Translate:  If you don’t turn in your daughter, you are going to die.

By Seth Ogilvie, Idaho Reports

A father and a daughter fled their country in fear and ended up in U.S. detention. A group of Idahoans saw what was happening and wanted to help.

“The dehumanizing practices make me ill. It’s absolute chaos,” said Molly Kafka an Idaho lawyer who recently interviewed several asylum seekers in El Paso. “The whole system is in utter chaos.”


Photo by Max Shue

Kafka saw the chaos first hand. She was one of five Idahoans who traveled to Texas. In Idaho, she heard that children were being separated from their parents and felt compelled to go to the border to bear witness and do what she could to help. The group of Idahoans landed in Texas, traveled across the desert and prepared for a long week in El Paso.

Hundreds of Guatemalan asylum seekers have headed to the same area, walking across a small pedestrian right of way enclosed by bars and chain link fence spanning a canal and a road they enter the United States from Juarez, Mexico. They guide their children to government agents.

“They walk up to officers and say I do not have authorization,” said Kafka. “I’m not allowed in this country. I do not have a visa or a passport to get in, but I’m afraid to return home.”  

Kafka, along with her four other colleagues, interviewed mothers and fathers separated from their children while in U.S. custody the same week Trump signed an executive order to reunite families. The asylum seekers would “be taken into different rooms, and that would be the end of it. They would be told, well, we can’t keep the two of you together. Your kid is underage, and you’re an adult. We can’t have you in the same facilities.” Kafka said.


Photo by Max Shue

Maria Andrade, a prominent Idaho immigration attorney, was the principal organizer of the group. With her help, the team set up base at Annunciation House. They worked in a recently painted room with bare walls, folding tables, and limited chairs. On one of the walls, they hung a sheet of paper with a happy face on it. The poster was titled “Reunited Families” and had space for names. The poster had no names and remained bare and empty. “It was blank, and at some point during the week, I was like we got to get rid of this paper,” Andrade said.IMG-20180803-WA0003

Henrry Ramirez Bayes, an asylum seeker from Guatemala, had already made the roughly 2,000 mile trip from Guatemala to a detention center in Texas. He fled his home with his daughter, leaving his other family members behind.IMG-20180702-WA0014

Gangs in his home country threatened, assaulted and stabbed Bayes trying to extract his daughter from Bayes’ family.  The U.S. government had separated the two of them. “We were in an office. They took our fingerprints. I was with my child, then they took us in a room that was super cold, and I was there with my daughter,” said Bayes. “They told me don’t worry, you will be separated only for five days. I had handcuffs on, so I couldn’t even give my daughter a hug. My daughter is still traumatized.”

Separated from his daughter, Bayes found himself in what is commonly called the “icebox,” both because of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the temperature, for twenty days. “I have nowhere to sleep. I was sleeping on the floor, I had those blankets, the silver ones. It was super cold,” said Bayes. “They don’t let you sleep, they count you every two hours, they open the doors and then slam them, everybody’s talking so there’s basically no sleep. It’s just torture, like not wanting to go on anymore.”

Bayes moved to the detention center in Otero, New Mexico, about 30 minutes from El Paso before the Idahoans arrived. “I thought it was gonna be a detention center, but it was a real jail. They had people that have committed crimes that had killed other people, so it was kind of frightening and then I realized one month had gone by,” said Bayes. “The second month we had a TV, so I knew what’s going on in the news so that’s when I realized that we were not going to be together for a while and I didn’t think we would be reunited.”

“They’re in state-issued jumpsuits, they have to line up and stand like they’re in prison. It reminded me of visiting clients in jails,” said Kafka.

Bayes had not broken any laws on his journey.

To apply for asylum, you must be physically present in the U.S. You have to walk across the bridge from Juárez, or a border crossing like it, and find a border patrol officer to start the process. Bayes wanted to protect his daughter and he put his faith in the U.S.government so she would be safe.

Otero in New Mexico2

Photo by Max Shue

On July 22nd Bayes was eating in the dining area. “There were other detainees there also. During the meal, an officer announced that they were going to reunify us with our children in El Paso. I was very excited and happy. It was clear to me from their faces and statements that the other men were happy too. Some of them did not even finish eating,” said Bayes.

Bayes was excited to reunite with his daughter “I took off my uniform and changed into my own clothes,” Bayes said. “I saw that about eight of the detainees who were mostly indigenous Guatemalans were given some papers that others were not. I believe many of them cannot read or write and do not speak Spanish based on my interactions with them. The group got off the bus before the rest of us.”

Kafka and Andrade traveled to detention centers daily. “They all look like warehouses where semis would pull up and load up their beer trucks or their boxes of goods,” said Kafka. “But they’re surrounded by barbed wire fences, and the gates are locked.”

Upon entry they traveled “through a metal detector” Andrade said. She would walk down a hall to see detainees. On the wall, a giant screen with bright colors allowed people to deposit money into detainee accounts. The detainees would use that money to make phone calls, contact family members, and seek outside help on their cases. “It was so gross,” said Andrade. “It had these peppy colors and fonts.” The program was called “Getting Out.” Family and friends of detainees in the facility would walk by it as they went to the visitation room. The logo looked like the Bank of America, and it served as a stark reminder to many visitors that the likelihood any of these people would be “getting out” was slim. Andrade remembered, “I wanted to throw a rock at that.”


Photo by Max Shue

Bayes made the trip to El Paso. “There were 37 people on the bus. We entered a parking lot with buildings, including a detention center”, Bayes said. “We were surprised that our kids were not waiting for us. I thought that after changing into our own clothes, that we were going to be released from custody. Instead, we were put into the icebox.”

Bayes had been in the icebox before, shortly after being separated from his daughter weeks before. He started the journey to U.S. asylum because Guatemalan gangs wanted his daughter. “He came because people are trying to buy his daughter. They got death threats because people wanted his daughter,” Andrade explained. “Graffiti on a wall next to his family home said ‘give us your daughter or you will die.’”

“I came to this country asking for asylum because my daughter was in danger,” said Bayes. “I left my other son, and I just brought my daughter that was in danger. [It’s] because of my daughter I’m here.”

The group from Idaho would meet parents separated from their children in small rooms separated by plexiglass. The rooms were white with accents of gray. They had fluorescent lights that created a constant hum. Volunteers would get headaches from the hum. The rooms were filled with flat, stagnant air that smelled like sweat, “death threats and anxiety,” Andrade said. Developing a rapport in the small rooms was difficult. “We were asking people to trust us after our government has so violently torn them apart from their children and placed them here,” said Kafka. The interpreter Max Shue would “have his ear up to the speaker and the other person had to be at the speaker as well,” Kafka added.  “It was a really difficult place to communicate.”


Photo by Max Shue

Bayes spent the next day in the detention center. Eventually, officers started to remove detainees one by one. The group thought the moment had finally come. They would finally see their children. “Everyone was so happy, and there was loud clapping in celebration when the first person was called,” Bayes said. After several people had been called out of the room by officers, a group of detainees peered out the window to the yard outside the building. The busses were parked outside. The asylum seekers they thought had just been reunited with their children were standing outside. “I saw him outside of the building, walking to the bus in handcuffs,” Bayes said. “He was not with his child. He had a chain around his waist, and his wrists were cuffed together.”

Many of the men broke. The shock of being moments away from their child only to be led back to detention again was too much. “People got depressed. Others started crying. Some had a meltdown and they had to go to a doctor, so it is really bad,” said Bayes. “People were crying. It was horrific.” Andrade said men recounting the event were “trying to be strong, on the brink of tears or they would just break down crying. One man, I thought he was mentally decomposing.”

Another man told Andrade “I don’t want him (his child) to think I left him. I didn’t want this. I loved him. I’m ready to go, but I can’t leave without talking to him. I’m not going to leave him.”

The asylum seekers miss their children. They thought they were bringing them to a better place, but now they feel duped. “They have this incredible sense of guilt,” Andrade added. “They feel like they were responsible for this.”

Kafka said gangs had recruited many of the people she interviewed. If families rejected the groups, those families were at risk. Some would report the gangs to the police, but “because the police are working for the gangs, people would end up being shot,” Kafka said. “It is consistent harassment and terrorizing tradition of not wanting to participate in criminal activity and then having to flee because the government is not protecting you. Police aren’t protecting you. You don’t say no to the cartels without deadly consequences.”

Bayes was sent back to Otero the next day. “On the return bus, some people asked the bus driver why we were being sent back without our kids, but they told us that they did not know,” said Bayes. “No ICE officer or other immigration official told us why we were being returned.”

Some parents and kids reunited. Adults and children went into a large room outside the detention center.  “It was completely disorganized. It was so clear that they had no idea what they were doing,” Andrade heard from parents in the room. “Kids crying, looking for their parents. [Some] can’t find their parents, walking through this path of adults. Parents looking for their kids thinking they’re seeing their kids. It’s so clear they couldn’t care [less] about the trauma.”

The parents that found their children boarded a different bus. The bus left the center with parents finally talking to their children after long separations. Shortly after leaving the facility, the bus stopped. Government officials boarded the bus with documents in hand. The parents were asked to sign the papers, according to multiple accounts and an ACLU lawsuit. On the form, “I’m going to be deported with my child was pre-checked,” according to Andrade.

Many of the parents and children on the bus didn’t want to sign, but they didn’t want to leave their kids. Parents cried not wanting to lose their sons and daughters again. “They’re being told you have to sign here,” Andrade said. “One witness tells us about a parent and a son fighting because the son says ‘I think I have a claim. Someone told me I had a good case.’ The fathers like ‘no, you have to come with me.’”

The older kids were able to explain their position to their parents. They had a good chance at being granted asylum. They didn’t want to self-deport, but they also didn’t want to leave their mom or dad again.  Only eight people didn’t sign the self-deportation order.

An ACLU lawsuit about the incident describes “coercive and misleading” actions by the U.S. government.

“They were presented with three different forms, and they were asked to sign them,” Kafka said. “The ICE officer picked up the stack of papers and picked up the right corner and said ‘sign here, sign here,’ without showing them.” The forms were all in English and no translation was offered. If asylum seekers refused to sign, they would be “yelled at and ridiculed and mistreated,” Kafka said.

Otero in New Mexico

Photo by Max Shue

Bayes returned to the detention center without his daughter. “This experience was very traumatic for me. I was so excited to see my daughter and be with her again after not seeing her for almost two months now,” said Bayes. “My daughter is 15 years old. She turned 15 just before we arrived.”

Another member of the Idaho team was Naomi Johnson. “My purpose in going, as a clinical social worker, was to assist in instances of vicarious trauma,” said Johnson. “I ended up spending most of my time attempting to locate children after they had been removed from their parent(s).”

Johnson tried to find Bayes’ daughter. She was able to make contact with the person responsible for the daughter. The representative told Johnson that the daughter was released. “A child was supposed to be tracked by the Office of Refugee Resettlement, we started seeing that the legal representative had signed a release of the child [and] had put the child on a bus and didn’t know where the child was,” said Kafka.

“When I talked to them they said to their knowledge the child had been reunited eight days prior to our conversation,” Johnson said. “I explained that they were not reunited [and] that the father had no idea where his child was.”

“We’d be like the (expletive) they have,” said Kafka. “They’re in the detention facility! Where’s the child? What’s going on? Can you imagine being in this country, being in a foreign country, and losing your child? Intentionally, absolutely intentionally, they have a database.”

The U.S. government lost Bayes’ daughter.

“I had to tell him that according to the government, his daughter and he had been released. I mean to see his face. He knows what could happen. They don’t (expletive) know where she is. Where’s his daughter? He came because people are trying to buy his daughter,” Andrade said. “They got death threats because people wanted his daughter.”

Andrade and Kafka eventually had to return to Idaho. They turned over Bayes’ case to other lawyers and Johnson turned the search for his daughter over to other caseworkers.

Back at the detention center, Bayes started to receive this new assistance. Then one morning, he got a phone call. His lawyer said you’re going to be released, but Bayes didn’t believe it “because of the things that have been happening.”

The volunteers didn’t stop trying to track down his daughter and get Bayes out of detention.

Eventually an immigration officer told Bayes he was going to be released, but first, he had to sign some documents. Bayes said “I was doubting if I should sign, but I just wanted to leave that place, so I signed. I don’t know if that’s going to help me in my case or hurt me, but I just wanted to be released, so finally I saw my daughter after three months, and that was the best thing that happened to me.”

Bayes and his daughter are now in the United States, outside the walls of a detention facility. They are currently waiting for their asylum hearing. Their long journey away from violence is temporarily over, but the trauma they experienced still lingers.

His daughter was not the same. The experience had affected her mentally and physically. “She doesn’t trust me anymore, she thinks I’m going to leave her again,” said Bayes.  “When I go out to the store, I tell her I’ll be back, and she looks at me like ‘I don’t trust you, you’re going to leave me again.’ It breaks me because of what she went through, so after I have money I’m going to send her to a psychiatrist because she’s not right.”

The experience has had a physical toll on Bayes’ daughter. He remembers her having her period before they left for the United States but “after we got out of the detention she hasn’t had her period for two months,” said Bayes “I’m very afraid that they touched her or raped her.”

Stress can cause irregular or missed periods. The condition is called secondary amenorrhea.

Now that they are back together, Bayes says his only priority is his daughter. He is going to do whatever it takes to give her a better life because “my life doesn’t matter, it’s her life,” said Bayes.

In 2017, then-Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly proposed separating children from their parents to deter people from traveling to the border. Had Bayes known what was in store for him, the deterrence may have worked. “I would not do it again if I knew how difficult it was going to be, being separated from my daughter. I would not have done it,” said Bayes. “I would have gone to another country and asked for asylum in another country because it was really harsh.”



From a 2010 lawsuit to Proposition 2: Where does Wasden stand?

By Melissa Davlin, Idaho Reports

One reason Idaho is currently considering Medicaid expansion is a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court decision that, in part, allowed individual states to decide whether to expand their programs.

The decision was the result of a 2010 lawsuit from thirteen state attorneys general, including Idaho’s Lawrence Wasden, over the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. The Supreme Court ultimately upheld significant parts of the ACA.

At the time, Wasden’s arguments focused not on the merits of the ACA, but on whether the law violated the Commerce Clause of the US Constitution. Since then, Wasden has had little to say about Medicaid expansion, other than reviewing and certifying the proposed statutory language last November.

So as one of the attorneys general who initially sued, where does Wasden personally stand on Proposition 2?

“As Attorney General, I litigate based on the law and the State of Idaho’s best interests,” Wasden said in a statement to Idaho Reports. “I vote as a citizen and, like many Idahoans, prefer to keep my ballot choices private.”

Wasden joins Republican gubernatorial candidate Brad Little in declining to say how he views Medicaid expansion. Republican lieutenant governor candidate Janice McGeachin opposes Proposition 2.

Since 2012, five of the 13 states that initially sued over the ACA have expanded Medicaid, and another three — including Idaho — are considering expansion.



In Idaho, education not yet the key to wage equality

By Seth Ogilvie, Idaho Reports

Women in Idaho make significantly less than men, and education level may even exacerbate the inequity.

The Idaho earnings gap in 2017 averaged out to be $12,619, with women earning 60 percent of what men earned according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The gap closed a bit when we tabulated only men and women who worked full-time and year-round employment, but those women still made about 74 percent of their male counterparts.

“There are multiple sources of gender pay gaps, making it challenging to isolate one cause,” said Dr. Jaclyn J. Kettler, an associate professor of political science at Boise State University,

To cut down on some of these possible sources for the pay gap, Idaho Reports created its own data set. We compared census data for men and woman who had bachelors degrees. When we compared only college-educated men and women, the wage gap increased. In 2016, women with a bachelor degree in Idaho earn about 62 percent of their male counterparts statewide.

One explanation for the wage disparity: “More women graduate with degrees in education and work in public education, which pays less than careers in engineering,” Kettler said. “In general, women tend to be concentrated among lower-paying careers.”

The silver bullet solution often given by policymakers has been education, but despite women in Idaho embracing higher education in numbers higher than male counterparts, they do not see the promised returns. A 2018 report by the University of Georgetown notes, “As women outperform men in college, some of the patriarchy of the job market is being wiped away. But the gender wage disparity is still far from being resolved. In the workplace, women are forced to play by a different set of rules than men.”

The different set of rules according to the Georgetown study are reinforced by gender stereotypes. “More limited advancement, time spent on work, unconscious or conscious stereotypes/discrimination, inflexible workplace structures, and higher attrition rates,” all factor into the inequity according to Dr. Kettler. “Wages also tend to decline once more women enter a field, and wages rise when men enter fields more dominated previously by women.”

The wage discrepancies also vary significantly across Idaho. In Boise County, women with a bachelor’s degree make almost $54,000 less than the men in the county. That’s consistent with the rest of the nation, where rural counties have higher wage gaps. Kettler and the Georgetown study have speculated that lack of household and neighborhood responsibilities for men make it easier for them to commute to higher paying jobs outside of their communities. Women don’t have the geographical freedom, “since women still tend to spend more time on caregiving,” said Kettler. Women’s responsibilities often confine them to employment options within their direct community.

Only one county in Idaho has a wage gap that favors women. In Gooding County, women make $42,083, compared to $41,519 for men. Gooding County was the only place in Idaho with census data showing women earning as much or more than men. Boundary County the was the next closest, with women making $785 on average less than men.


It should also be noted that minority women tend to have an even larger pay gap than their white counterparts. Idaho Reports plans to explore more of these wage inequities in the future.


Nez Perce Co sheriff’s Facebook account makes fun of unreported sexual assault

By Melissa Davlin, Idaho Reports 
A post on an Idaho sheriff’s Facebook page is raising questions in his community over how sexual assault victims are treated.

On Friday afternoon, a Facebook account belonging to Nez Perce County Sheriff Joe Rodriguez posted an image of an elderly woman with the caption, “My ass was groped in 1886. I waited till now to tell about it.”


Screenshot courtesy Jesse Maldonado

The post doesn’t say as much, but the allusion is clear: The past week’s national headlines have been dominated by 36-year-old accusations of sexual assault against Brett Kavanaugh, whom President Donald Trump nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court in July. The allegations stalled the Senate committee vote on Kavanaugh’s confirmation, and critics have asked accuser Christine Blasey Ford why she didn’t report the alleged attack when it happened.

Idaho Democratic Party second vice chairman Jesse Maldonado, a Lewiston native, posted a screenshot of the since-deleted post, prompting a vigorous discussion of sexual assault and social media use.

“And people wonder why sexual assault victims don’t come forward. This is Nez Perce County’s Sheriff. Despicable, Joe,” Maldonado wrote. “How about a town hall with women and let them tell you why they don’t come forward and speak up?”

After dozens of comments — most criticizing Rodriguez — a Facebook account belonging to Rodriguez’s wife claimed the sheriff hadn’t, in fact, posted the original image. The account then posted a statement allegedly from Rodriguez himself:

“Sexual harassment is something I would not tolerate or deal with in any fashion, on or off duty. So when I heard of this story I was wondering what happened. My wife had the message sent to her and she believed she was on her Facebook when it was posted. So to those who believe we would tolerate this I guess you really don’t know either my wife or I very well. Some like to poke the bear, just to get a reaction and those start to feed the story more than what it really is. A poor joke, yes. Bad taste, yes. We have to look at the big picture when we start to post or react to a story. What truth is there. Did you investigate what was said or believe it was true. Kind of lets you know who really is a friend and who says they are a friend to your face, but behind close doors has another reaction.
If this has offended you I apologize,
Sheriff Joe Rodriguez”

But the issue isn’t just about a Supreme Court nomination, offensive jokes, or social media etiquette.

According to RAINN, two out of three sexual assaults nationwide are not reported to law enforcement. And according to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, just 12 percent of reported sex crimes in Nez Perce County resulted in arrests between the years of 2009 and 2015. Statewide, that percentage was 24 percent during the same time period.

The controversy prompted an announcement from Lewiston police officer Terry Koeper: “We must, as neighbors, friends and family members stand shoulder-to-shoulder with those who have faced these appalling acts against them and put an end to sexual assault in our community,” he wrote on his campaign Facebook page. “I ran against our current sheriff in 2016 for a multitude of reasons, and after these revelations, plan to do so again in 2020.”

Rodriguez has not yet returned a request for comment. This post will be updated if that changes.



Death & Secrecy


Chamber Looking South

Courtesy Idaho Department of Correction

By Seth Ogilvie, Idaho Reports

Seven years ago, the state of Idaho killed two men in a six month period.

Only a few people at the Idaho Department of Correction know exactly how these men died.

In 2017, University of Idaho professor Aliza Cover submitted a public records request to find out what happened in the “green room,” the small cream colored execution chamber at the Idaho Maximum Security Institution.

The public doesn’t really have enough information to make an informed decision about at least the methods by which we’re putting people to death,” Cover told Idaho Reports.

But the Department of Correction has refused to comply with an April 5th order from District Judge Lynn Norton to hand over documents related to the executions, and Cover’s lawyers passed up an opportunity to challenge that refusal.

In the most recent hearing, Norton asked Cover’s attornies why they had not asked the state to be held in contempt.


On September 17th, Norton ordered a trial. In court, Norton mused it was the only procedural remedy if contempt hearings were not initiated.

The question in the upcoming trial: Should Idahoans know how people are executed with their taxpayer dollars?

“These are obvious matters of extreme societal significance, perhaps the apex of societal significance,” Ritchie Eppink, Legal Director for the Idaho ACLU told Idaho Reports.

IDOC offers a little transparency. Three reporters witnessed the executions. They saw pentobarbital injected into the two men, but they did not see how the drugs were procured and stored, or how the fatal cocktail was prepared. “Idaho officials are trying to keep this information from the public.” Cover said.

The Department of Correction claims the secrecy is about the safety and privacy of the people involved in the execution, from the doctors who administer the drugs to the companies that manufacture them. “The idea that we as a people would collectively kill someone,” Eppink said, “Those issues of privacy just simply do not arise here.”

There was a national crisis in 2010 to 2011 when drugs used in executions became scarce, Cover said. “It created a pattern of states turning to secrecy where there hadn’t been a strong emphasis on secrecy before, because they didn’t have legitimate sources for the drugs or they were experimenting with new protocols that were not thought out and well established in terms of safety.”

The Rhoades and Leavitt executions in 2011 and 2012 were right in that wake that national crisis.

“We know that states are hiding things that are scandalous and are criminal,” Eppink Said. “These are the kinds of things that make ordinary people drop their jaws.” Eppink is referencing experimental execution drugs and procedures in states like Tennessee, Nevada, and Oklahoma.

Revealing the manufacturer of the drugs could put people at risk, argues the state. “The source has significant concerns that the source would be subjected to harassment and harm to the source’s business,” Jeff Zmuda, deputy director of the Idaho Department of Correction, said in a sworn deposition.

This conflict creates a catch 22 for Idaho. “Disclosing the identity of the source of a lethal injection,” said Deputy Attorney General Jessica Kuehn, “would jeopardize the department’s ability to carry out an execution,”

According to Eppink, this creates a system where there is “no judicial oversight effectively, no legislative oversight, no public oversight of where our lethal injection drugs are coming from, whether they are safe, whether they are even appropriate for lethal injection in the first place. There is no way for the public to verify whether these drugs are even made by licensed suppliers. There is no way for the public to verify whether or not there are political or financial ties between the Department of Correction officials that are purchasing these drugs and the people that are supplying these drugs.”

Idaho Code gives the Department of Correction the ability to withhold documents when confidentiality, public safety, and security clearly outweighs the public interest in disclosure. The department of correction believes “disclosing such information would subject such chemical sources to harassment and pressure,” Kuehn said.

Idaho’s public records law states a public agency shall not prevent the examination or copying of a public record by contracting with a non-governmental body to perform any of its duties or functions. “It is exactly what is happening here,” Eppink said.

“The number of documents that actually discuss the drugs at all are very very small,” Kuehn said.  Only three pages that are known of that actually discussed the source at all and who the source is.”

The almost year-long records request, however, has created an interesting document trail. First, the Department of Corrections provided five documents in a web link after the September 24, 2017, request.  

After Cover petitioned the court, the Department of Corrections found hundreds of more pages of responsive documents.

Here are links to the bulk of the documents disclosed:

Disk 1

Disk 2

In the most recent court hearing, frustrations about the Department of Corrections disclosure were openly expressed by the judge.

“I have to tell you now I have some concerns,” Norton told the court. “Now you’re telling me 900 pages later that there were at least 900 pages of things that the state had not produced at that point. So it does give me pause as to whether the evidence at the hearing was actually accurate, quite frankly.”

Norton ordered disclosure of unredacted documents, including the source of the lethal injection drugs.

Despite the order, the Department of Correction did not disclose the source of the drugs, but continued to find documents. “They failed to do a diligent search,” Norton said in the most recent court appearance. “After the court’s order then (they) did a diligent search.”

The Department of Correction claimed that many of the newly found documents were not purposely withheld, but were missing in odd places. “A box containing execution-related documents was found in the office of an employee who has since promoted and no longer works at Central Office,” Zmuda said.

“It’s very clear that that’s not a well-thought-out file plan,” Norton told the court.

Idaho’s public records law has a time frame. The disclosure of records is supposed to be timely within three working days or for more time-intensive searches “no later than ten working days following the person’s request. Not making a prompt search “would allow a public agency, through a motion to reconsider, allow them to wait until after contested proceedings, after a final writ of mandate before diligently searching,” Eppink said.

“For an ordinary person trying to get access to the same information,” Cover said, “it would be really difficult to be able to sustain this kind of litigation.”

Norton modified the disclosure writ on Monday, allowing IDOC “to redact portions of record(s) that would identify the source of execution drugs for the Rhoades and Leavitt executions since this issue is reserved for a trial on the merits.”

The trial will get at the heart of the disagreement: Do Idaho citizens have a right to know how they are putting people to death, or, as the Department of Correction says, is the secrecy needed for capital punishment to exist?

“Even if the death penalty is constitutional, there may be an unconstitutional method for putting them to death,” said Cover. “If there is an unreasonable risk of pain and suffering to a human who’s being put to death then we have a constitutional problem. The death penalty is not the same thing as torture.”

The department and the state, however, are steadfast moving forward and “will not disclose, under any circumstance, the identity of certain individuals involved in executions, as well as any other information wherein the disclosure of that information could jeopardize the department’s ability to carry out an execution,” Kuehn said.

Well, obviously, records that show that the department has been killing people illegally or is planning to kill people illegally, or there are reasons to expect that an execution has been or will be botched,” Eppink said. “That is going to jeopardize an execution.”


In Idaho, where you live can affect how long you live

By Melissa Davlin, Idaho Reports


If you’re a man in north Idaho’s Benewah County, you can expect to live about 74 years.

But if you drive south through the rolling hills of the Palouse, you’ll soon end up in Latah County, where men live an average of 78 years — four years longer than their immediate neighbors to the north.

The disparity demonstrates what sociologists and doctors have long known: How long you live might depend on which county you call home, and there’s no one cause, or solution, to the problem.

The gap between Latah and Benewah is one of many stark examples of Idaho life expectancy differences. If you’re a man who lives in Canyon County, your life expectancy of 76 years is two years less than your neighbors 10 minutes down the road in Ada County. Men in Teton County live an average of nearly 81 years; just south in Bonneville, that drops to 76.5. Blaine County women live more than three years longer on average than women to the south in Lincoln County, and five years longer than those to the east in Custer County.

Those numbers come from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which aggregated five years’ worth of county-level data from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

There are some caveats to this data. Some sparsely populated counties located in the same region have the same averages, suggesting they were grouped together for the data analysis. The data also comes from a 2013 report, and health outcomes may have shifted since then. (Click here to see county by county data. You can also see the data for women here, and the data for men here.)

Upon request, the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare provided its own numbers based on analysis of deaths between 2013 and 2017. That data is slightly different than the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s, and, in some cases, suggests even larger inequities between counties. For example, Benewah’s life expectancy stayed near 74 years, while Latah’s jumped to 81 years.

Why the disparities? It’s not just medical access and quality of care. Other factors — income, education, economic opportunities, and housing security — play into a person’s life span.

“Social context and statuses play an important role in shaping a person’s life experiences and life chances, and race, gender and geography have all been found to influence life expectancy,” said Rebecca Som Castellano of Boise State University’s Department of Sociology.

Poverty is also strongly correlated with low life expectancies, said Brian Wolf, Department of Sociology and Anthropology chairman at University of Idaho. That holds true in Benewah County, where two-thirds of children qualify for free and reduced lunch at school, and the median household income is about $39,000. (Compare that to Idaho as a whole, with 48.5 percent of kids qualifying for free and reduced lunch, and a median household income of $47,500.)

“Socioeconomic disadvantage and poverty are strongly associated with both rurality and mortality, and many of the parts of the country with the lowest life expectancy are rural places,” Som Castellano said.

Katherine Hoyer, public information officer for the Panhandle Health District, said a number of other social factors could weigh in on Benewah County’s low life expectancies. A recent assessment by the Panhandle Health District showed Benewah’s teen pregnancy rates are higher than Idaho’s as a whole, as are infant mortality rates. Benewah ranks worse than Idaho on average in a number of other categories: Food insecurity, access to fresh fruits and vegetables, high blood pressure, cancer rates, and the number of people with higher education and high school diplomas.

Benewah County also includes part of the Coeur d’Alene Reservation. American Indian communities experience health care and mortality disparity throughout the country, though a breakdown on race wasn’t available in Benewah County’s mortality statistics through the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. (A representative of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe couldn’t be reached for comment.)

So what’s the solution? With so many factors, there’s no one answer. Supporters of Proposition 2, on the ballot in November, hope to address medical issues by making more people eligible for Medicaid, but that won’t immediately fix all barriers to receiving medical care, such as rural doctor shortages and lack of transportation to medical appointments.

The state has focused on improving go-on rates, or the number of high school students who pursue higher education, but has seen limited success. In Benewah County, the 4-H Extension Office has set up garden boxes for fresh vegetables, and a food distribution program attempts to tackle hunger in the community. And the Panhandle Health District is currently working on updating its Community Health Improvement Plan for its north Idaho counties.

“It is often the intersection of multiple dimensions that leads to a lower life expectancy,” Som Castellano said.

And those multiple dimensions will require multiple strategies to overcome.

Reporter’s note: Journalist Suzanne Bohan explores the concept of social determinants affecting life expectancy in “Twenty Years of Life: Why the Poor Die Earlier and How To Challenge Inequity.” In July, I attended a session on this topic by Bohan at an Association of Health Care Journalists training, through which I have a fellowship.

Over the next year, Idaho Reports is digging deep into healthcare issues throughout Idaho as part of the AHCJ fellowship. Keep following us online and on the air for more.


Newly formed “Work, Not Obamacare PAC” to fight Prop 2

By Melissa Davlin, Idaho Reports

There’s a new player in the fight over Medicaid expansion — or at least, new jerseys for some varsity members of the team.

The newly formed Work, Not Obamacare PAC is aimed at “educating voters about Prop 2,” said PAC chairman Bob Tikker, president of Tikker Engineering.

In November, Idaho voters will consider Proposition 2 — otherwise known as the Medicaid expansion ballot initiative — which would expand Medicaid eligibility to everyone under 138 percent of the poverty line.

And with two months to go before the election, expect to see a lot of money going into both sides of the campaign.

Tikker said he is active with the Idaho Freedom Foundation, but stressed the PAC is separate from the foundation itself.

Idaho Freedom Foundation vice president Fred Birnbaum told Idaho Reports confirmed that the Idaho Freedom Foundation and Work, Not Obamacare PAC are separate entities.

“There’s a lot of election law complexity. We’re going to follow the law to the T,” Birnbaum said. “The Freedom Foundation can do policy work. We can talk about the flaws of expansion. We’ll continue to opine on that.”

But, he added, as an IFF representative, he would stop short of encouraging a no vote.

I would just talk about the flaws and let people make their own decisions on how to vote,” Birnbaum said.

That’s where the PAC comes in.

The PAC will be the only vehicle that will actually go out and work toward a no vote,” Birnbaum said.

One note on the PAC name: There is conflicting research on whether Medicaid recipients work. In a recent Idaho Freedom Foundation column, president Wayne Hoffman cited a report by the Foundation for Government Accountability says more than half of Medicaid expansion recipients nationwide don’t work. But according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, many adults in the so-called Medicaid gap do, in fact, work. 

So far, the Idaho Freedom Foundation has been the most prominent group opposed to Medicaid expansion, though other individuals, like House Majority Caucus Chairman John Vander Woude, have also spoken out publicly against Proposition 2. And in late June, Republican lieutenant governor candidate Janice McGeachin successfully sponsored an amendment to formally oppose Medicaid expansion at the GOP’s state party convention.

But other Republicans have publicly supported Proposition 2, including House Health and Welfare Chairman Fred Wood, and former congressional candidate Christy Perry. Perry is co-chair of the Medicaid expansion campaign.

The Work, Not Obamacare PAC won’t be the first infusion of cash into this campaign. In May, the Fairness Project reported spending nearly half a million dollars in its efforts to support signature-gathering to get Medicaid expansion on the November ballot.

In October, Idaho Reports will air an hour-long special on Medicaid expansion and the potential effects on health care in Idaho. Keep an eye out for details.