Idaho seeks $11 million for parolee mental health services

FILE PHOTO - In this June 15, 2010 file photo, the Idaho Correctional Center is shown south of Boise, Idaho, operated by Corrections Corporation of America.  (AP Photo/Charlie Litchfield, File)
FILE PHOTO - In this June 15, 2010 file photo, the Idaho Correctional Center is shown south of Boise, Idaho, operated by Corrections Corporation of America. (AP Photo/Charlie Litchfield, File)

BOISE, Idaho (AP) – Idaho health officials plan to ask lawmakers for about $11.2 million to provide mental health and drug abuse services to probationers and parolees at the highest risk of returning to prison.

“The whole idea is to cut back on recidivism,” said Tom Shanahan, a spokesman with the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare. “These are people who usually don’t have health coverage when they get out of prison.”

The annual cost per high-risk offender is $1,514, according to a 2015 study by Western Intermountain Commission on Higher Education done under a contract with the state.

However, the state is currently spending $30,400 annually to serve the estimated 7,300 offenders identified as having high mental health needs or posing a high risk to their communities.

The Idaho Department of Corrections has estimated that 35 percent of felony offenders will return to prison within three years of release.

The mental health and drug abuse project does not involve federal dollars and is not connected to Medicaid expansion. Shanahan said the high-risk parolee and probationer population would likely receive health coverage if the state had chosen to expand Medicaid eligibility – which is allowed under the Affordable Care Act.

Idaho’s Republican-dominated Legislature has refused to consider any sort of Medicaid expansion. Furthermore, GOP resistance has only intensified as President-elect Donald Trump and fellow congressional Republicans have promised to overhaul the 2010 law.

That means it’s up to the state to come up with a solution to meet the needs of its high-risk parole offender population.

The department intends to make the funding request during the 2017 legislative session, which starts in January. If approved, the money will be used to hire a management services contractor.

The new program is part of the state’s ongoing justice reinvestment project that was started by state lawmakers three years ago to help reduce the number of prisoners and keep offenders from committing new crimes.

One of the biggest components of the effort is changing the way lawbreakers are handled – based on the level of risk each person presents.

Overall, more than 15,000 people are under the supervision of probation and parole. About 2,000 of the people who present the lowest risk of reoffending have been placed on the department’s new limited supervision unit, where they have far less contact with probation officers than other offenders.

 

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