Police and IDOC call for more mental health services in Idaho to ease prison crunch

Mental illness is high in Idaho prisons
Posted at 6:00 AM, Sep 27, 2018
and last updated 2018-09-28 00:28:43-04

Another 150 Idaho inmates are headed to Texas because Idaho prisons just don't have enough room.
"We certainly have seen an increase in inmates that corresponds with the increase in population in the state." says Ashley Dowell, chief of the Idaho Division of Prisons.
And Idaho is one of the fastest growing states in the nation, increasing 460 thousand people since 2000.
And a huge portion of Idaho inmates are diagnosed with mental health problems.
"Over the course of time, prisons have become defacto mental health facilities in the state of Idaho," says Dowell, "56 percent of the population has some type of level of care.  41 percent are on meds for mental health issues."
And no surprise, Dowell says prison is not the best place for those with mental health issues, "Prisons inherently are not a therapeutic place."
Those who deal with the mental health problems on the street, agree that society may not be best served by putting the mentally troubled behind bars.
"We have people who said I just can't get myself under control." explains Nampa PD's Cpt. Brad Daniels,  "They don't have family in place to go to and we don't have a place to take them.. The jails are packed, the prisons are packed it's a tough pill to swallow."
But it's an age old problem that keeps getting worse ... because. Dowell, explains why, "Idaho's mental health treatment in the community consistently ranks lowest in the nation."
As a result, police often find themselves off the streets while they try to find mental health beds for detainees... something that happens daily..
"That takes us below minimum staffing when you've got someone tied up on that call." says Lt. Tim Riha, with Nampa Police.
It may take a few brushes with the law, but eventually, police say many people who are mentally ill, if they don't get help, often end up behind bars.
"Even if we know they've been in the system several times for mental health issues, but now they''ve committed a crime," says Daniels, "They're going to jail."
So, what needs to change? Dowell says, "It's helpful for the health of the community and safety of the community and helpful to the prison population to have an early treatment and diversion options."
Daniels adds, "We forget  that it costs money no matter how it's handled.  Currently, the way it's handled is not very efficient."