The program that allowed a sex offender to walk free: just how effective is it?

COEUR d'ALENE, Idaho - One judge's decision is raising dozens of questions about Idaho's rider program for convicted criminals.

Judge John Mitchell decided to give convicted child molester Zachary Hubbard ten years of supervised probation Tuesday. Hubbard was sentenced to 40 years in prison for molesting an eight-year-old boy last year. He not only has Judge Mitchell, but the state's rider program, to thank for his freedom.

The rider program allows judges to place offenders in intense treatment programs, then determine if they should stay in prison or walk free. It focuses on intense rehabilitation for offenders in lieu of long prison sentences.

"The judge says, 'I want to get a better picture of this person. I'm about to make a big decision in his life -- maybe 5 years, 10, maybe 20 years in jail. So to be sure that I'm making the right decision, I want to dive deeper into what's going on inside his head,'" said Jim Bendell, an attorney who was not involved with the case, but gave KXLY4 some background on the program Wednesday.

An Idaho Department of Corrections population report from February 2018 showed more than 1,300 inmates in the rider program.

The Idaho Department of Corrections was not able to immediately provide success rates for the program Wednesday, but KXLY4 found a 2018 report from the DOC online. The numbers seem to show the longer an offender's probation, the less effective the program is.

A DOC program effectiveness report from 2017 shows 5.7 percent of rider inmates end up back behind bars in the first six months of their release.

The number goes up as their time out of prison goes on, according to a 2018 DOC report to the legislature.

That report from February 2018 shows after one year on probation, 19 percent of riders fail. That same report states after three years, 42 percent of riders fail and those offenders end up back in prison.

Hubbard received ten years of supervised probation and was determined to be a low to moderate risk of re-offending.

"Child molesters do have a high rate of recidivism. The therapy programs for them have not always turned out to be successful," said Bendell. "Child molesters do have a high rate of recidivism. The therapy programs for them have not always turned out to be successful."

Data from the DOC report shows it costs the state $26.5 million to keep offenders in treatment periods over a three year period. If those offenders stay out of prison, it does save the state some money -- it's much cheaper to supervise someone than it is to keep them behind bars.

To read the DOC report, click here.