Ten years ago, police in Idaho Falls responding to an incident involving a person with a mental illness had two options: leave the person where they are, or take them to jail.
In 2014 a new option became available: Take them to the Behavioral Health Community Crisis Center of East Idaho, where people going through a mental health crisis can receive help.
In the six years since it opened, the center has become a mainstay of eastern Idaho's justice system by giving people in crisis an opportunity to seek help.
Though law enforcement receive training on how to respond to a mental health crisis through empathy, the center gave officers the option to take the individual to a place where they could receive help from people specialized in mental health crises, if the patient agrees to go to the center voluntarily.
“After that initial contact, the after-steps are key,” Bonneville County Sheriff's Office Capt. Samuel Hulse said in 2014. “(Crisis center workers) will follow up with individuals after they have been released to make sure they are utilizing their resources.”
The Crisis Center was built as part of a program proposed by then-Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter. The hope was that providing an option for officers to take an individual to a crisis center, the communities served would save money in the long run, avoiding spending on the incarceration and prosecution of those individuals who would otherwise be taken to jail.
"Folks, this can work," Otter told members of the Legislature when discussing funding for the programs. "The response to such programs elsewhere has been encouraging, and communities have been more than willing to join in these investments as they see declines in use of local emergency rooms, hospital beds and jail cells."
The pilot centers proved a success. Idaho now has six similar crisis centers set up around the state, including in Pocatello, Twin Falls and Caldwell. Smaller, rural centers have also been set up in Lewiston, Orofino and Moscow.
In recent years the crisis center has teamed up with the Center for Hope, which provides recovery services for addiction and mental health. The two centers share a building on East Anderson Street, allowing the crisis center, which handles emergency situations, to refer patients to the Center for Hope where they can receive long-term assistance.
In a 2019 interview about the cooperation, Crisis Center Director Hailey Tyler said the programs were helping people turn their lives around who may have otherwise become trapped in a cycle of crime.
“The state has recognized that our hospitals are too full, our jails are too full, and in a lot of cases we’re able to do a rapid stabilization for these folks and prevent that long stay that’s costly,” Tyler said.