Printed on: January 08, 2013

Otter gives support to secure mental facility

BOISE (AP) -- Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter on Monday put his support behind a plan for the state Department of Corrections to build a secure mental health facility near Boise.

Corrections Department Director Brent Reinke hopes to issue $70 million in bonds to pay for the 579-bed mental health facility, which is expected to hold a combination of mentally ill prisoners and people who aren't criminals but who have been involuntarily committed through the civil courts.

The Legislature first authorized $70 million to build the facility in 2008, but the project was put on hold in 2010 as questions arose about staffing, operations and other economic factors tied to running the unit.

Idaho's prison population has increased in the years since, along with the mental health needs of inmates.

Last year, a federal judge signed off on a settlement agreement that called for major improvements to medical and mental health care at the Idaho State Correctional Institution after a court-appointed expert found that the level of care given to inmates was so poor that it amounted to cruel and unusual punishment.

Otter pitched the revived project as a matter of public safety, citing last month's school shooting in Newtown, Conn., when a gunman killed 20 children and six adults.

"We all saw just a few weeks ago the terrible impact on a community and a nation when mental illness leads to tragedy," Otter said. "Cost is just one of the enormous barriers to effectively addressing the challenges of protecting the public from those whose illness leads them to commit unspeakable acts. Those challenges deserve our earnest discussion. But we also must act where and how we can to reduce the risk."