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Eastern Idaho reacts to call for inmate mental health facility

In his State of the State address on Monday, Governor Butch Otter said he supports a Department of Corrections request for $70 million to fund a mental health hospital at the Idaho State Penitentiary complex south of Boise.

“More than a quarter of the inmates in our prison system have some level of mental illness,” said Otter.

Otter said he supported a proposal by State Department of Corrections director Brent Reinke.

Reinke wants to build a secure mental health facility of 579 beds to treat inmates with mental illnesses.

“Idaho is 50th in the nation when it comes to the money we spend on mental health,” said Bannock County Sheriff Lorin Nielsen.

Nielson on Monday said he applauds the governor for taking the lead.

“There are those in the system that have mental illnesses that need to be treated,” he said.

Nielsen added prisons aren’t the ideal place for those with mental illnesses, especially if they cannot have access to treatment.

On Facebook Monday afternoon, our station asked what viewers thought about the possible project.

Jennifer wrote, “How about access, treatments and support before incarceration?”

Lana echoed Jennifer, and wrote, “How about we treat them before they need a prison complex? Let’s spend the money that way instead.”

Donna said, “Well if you look at half the inmates that are already there many of them have been diagnosed with mental illnesses, but couldn’t get the treatment they needed and ended up in prison. It is a lot of money, but isn’t it safer to treat the mentally ill before they are released back into society?”

Taunya wrote, “Many don’t get diagnosed until they are in jail, so how do you propose we help them before hand?”

Nancy wrote, “Totally treat them!”

Otter’s support for the idea garnered some bipartisan support at the statehouse on Monday. Our station spoke to representative Caroyln Meline (D-Pocatello).

“It’s so needed, as we know about all the crime across the state, and most of it has some connection with mental health,” she said.

A Department of Corrections spokesman Monday said director Reinke does not want to talk about the project until he has made a presentation to lawmakers.

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