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Betsy Russell reports:  Idaho state Corrections Director Brent Reinke, who is making his budget pitch to lawmakers this morning, noted that just yesterday, he withdrew the request for a new $70 million, bond-funded secure mental health facility. “The need is here, to meet the needs of mental health, but what I’m hearing from legislators in this building and what we’ve heard from folks we’ve talked to, NAMI and lots of individuals, it’s great to have a secure mental facility, but what do we need in the community leading up to this?” Reinke said a “systemic” approach is needed. “What I’ve asked for is an opportunity to be able to retool this, bring back a plan for next year.” The idea, he said, is to examine mental health services and the whole criminal justice system, “so you don’t have to be a felon to receive services in the state of Idaho.”

Reinke said the prisons have seen increasing numbers of inmates with mental health needs; in fiscal year 2012, 2,136, or 27 percent of all inmates, fell into that category.

The prison system requested a 17.9 percent increase in state general funds next year, but Gov. Butch Otter is recommending a 6.6 percent boost.

“Idaho’s inmate population is actually lower than it was at the beginning of this fiscal year,” Reinke told JFAC. “That’s something we should pause and celebrate. … This morning we were at 8,026 in custody.” Last year, the inmate population averaged 8,097; from July to December of this year, it’s averaged 7,986. In fiscal year 2006, it was 6,976. The average Idaho inmate stays for two years and seven months, so many are coming and going; more than 13,000 cyled through the state’s prisons last year. “98 percent of all of our inmates leave the state’s custody,” he said.

Reinke said Idaho is on the verge of settling the Balla lawsuit that’s been ongoing for decades; as part of a stipulated agreement in the case, the Idaho State Correctional Institution would add five mental health staffers and seven correctional officers, and monitoring would continue for two years.

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