February 24, 2007 in Idaho

Budget targets prisons’ needs

Betsy Z. Russell Staff writer
 

BOISE – Idaho must spend more on substance abuse and mental health treatment for its prison inmates, legislative budget writers declared Friday.

The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee set a budget for the state’s prison system for next year that includes a major mental-health treatment initiative along with converting the North Idaho Correctional Institution at Cottonwood into a full substance-abuse treatment facility.

“You’ll find throughout this budget recommendation that we are having a high emphasis on not only substance abuse but mental health,” said House Appropriations Vice Chairman Darrell Bolz, R-Caldwell, who proposed the budget in the joint committee.

Corrections Director Brent Reinke said he met with Gov. Butch Otter the night before the budget-setting meeting and Otter agreed to the $879,600 budget item for the new approach to mental health treatment in Idaho’s prisons. That plan calls for adding 19 workers, including a new psychiatric treatment coordinator, clinicians, psychiatric treatment technicians and additional prison guards. They’d help staff a new unit at the Idaho State Correctional Institution with 236 beds.

Mentally ill inmates currently held at the Idaho Maximum Security Institution would be moved to the new unit, which would take over a wing of the state’s main medium-security prison.

“We’re providing the appropriate level of care for mentally ill inmates in the Idaho prison system for the first time,” Reinke said. And if Idaho didn’t make that move, a court would likely force it to do so, he said.

“The governor is trying to do the right thing,” Reinke said. “You need to remember that 98 percent of our folks are coming back home, so we need to provide these services so they can be productive citizens when they’re released.”

He added, “It’s a significant step, it really is, and we’re grateful that legislators see the need.”

At Cottonwood, the budget calls for adding 12 positions and expanding the New Directions treatment program to all inmates at the facility. Currently, less than half get the program.

Reinke said that will make NICI-Cottonwood a full substance abuse treatment facility to which courts can sentence offenders. “We were responding to the courts – the courts like that,” he said.

The treatment expansion at Cottonwood is a $721,200 budget item.

JFAC members also approved adding seven probation and parole officers, saying that as the state tries to move inmates through the system more quickly, they’ll need those officers to monitor offenders who are released on parole.

Overall, the budget that the joint committee set for Corrections on Friday totals $164.6 million in state general funds, a 15 percent increase from this year’s funding level. The governor’s recommendation – before he agreed to the mental health treatment expansion – was for an 11.6 percent increase, or $160 million in general funds.

The budget bill still needs approval from both houses and the governor’s signature to become law, but budget bills rarely are changed once they’re set by the joint committee.

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