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New mental health facility could serve Idaho, its citizens well

Statesman Editorial board
January 9, 2013
Idaho Statesman

As you might have noticed, the Statesman has received a lot of letters to the editor in the aftermath of the horrible massacre last month at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. It reignited debate over gun control, banning the sale of assault rifles and the state of U.S. mental health treatment.

There is a huge sense of frustration reflected in the letters, and that's understandable. Political leaders, including President Barack Obama, want to do something, but don't know exactly what. After all, how do you outsmart crazy?

Don't expect the Idaho Legislature to adopt comprehensive gun control legislation. If there's a national capital for Second Amendment rights, Idaho is it. But there is hope for increasing the commitment to mental health treatment. No, it won't stop all school shootings or violent crimes. But it is a step toward providing treatment for people who without it might end up committing violence against others or themselves.

In his State of the State message Monday, Gov. Butch Otter endorsed the Department of Correction's request to issue $70 million of bonds for a 579-bed secure mental health facility south of Boise.

Approval by the Legislature is not out of the question. Five years ago, lawmakers authorized spending $70 million for a mental health facility. That project was put on hold amid questions about operations, staffing and costs. No doubt, those questions will surface again, and the department's director, Brent Reinke, will need to answer them.

He should have a skeptical, but friendly, audience. Attitudes in the Statehouse about mental health treatment have changed dramatically. Years ago, increased treatment was viewed as a luxury Idaho could not afford. Today - especially in the wake of 2012's deadly shootings - there's a greater realization that it's money well spent if it gives people a better shot at becoming productive, nonviolent citizens.

Now, it's up to the Department of Correction to make its case.

"Our View" is the editorial position of the Idaho Statesman. It is an unsigned opinion expressing the consensus of the Statesman's editorial board. To comment on an editorial or suggest a topic, email

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