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Idaho’s fight against crime may be causing more harm than good

Posted on 08-11-16 in Advocacy, Mental Health, Recovery

Idaho’s fight against crime may be causing more harm than good

The state of Idaho is notorious for being tough on crime. With some of the highest incarceration rates in the United States and the lowest crime rates in the country, there seems to be a major disconnect. Idaho’s prison systems are full of mentally ill individuals who have committed petty or nonviolent crimes such as violating parole, failing to appear in court and drug crimes. The mental health and substance abuse industry has been fighting hard to obtain the appropriate help for these people in the form of mental health and substance treatment rather than incarceration.

Mental health and substance abuse are illnesses in the same way that diabetes and heart disease are illnesses. The main difference is that the former carry a large stigma. According to statistics from a report released in 2014, approximately 42 million Americans live with a mental illness. This is approximately 20 percent of the total U.S. population, or about 1 in 5 adults. This data is compiled from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and does not differ significantly from previous data released. This indicates that treatment services have not been decreasing the prevalence or the incidence of mental illness.

Incarceration and mental illness in Idaho

About 1 in 18 adults has been involved in the corrections system in the state of Idaho. The corrections system includes incarceration, probation and parole. Idaho spends more than $200 million a year on their prison systems, and these numbers continue to increase. Idaho is considered to have one of the highest incarceration rates out of all 50 states in the country, with only seven other states having higher rates. Ironically, Idaho has the third lowest crime rate in the United States, trailing behind only North and South Dakota.

Idaho normally first offers probation and a rider program that involves a short stay at a minimum-security prison such as the North Idaho Correctional Institution at Cottonwood. Both of these approaches are in place to help keep nonviolent offenders out of the main prison system. About 84 percent of those who come before an Idaho judge for a felony conviction take the probation and rider program path. However, at least 30 percent of them either fail the program or end up violating probation, leading them to serve almost two years in prison.

The second option individuals are faced with is Idaho’s parole system. This path proves less effective, as almost half of the participants return to prison for 19 months because they’ve violated their parole or committed a misdemeanor. Marty Trillhaase of “The Lewiston Tribune” summarized, “Idaho is sending people back to prison for offenses that would, at most, land anyone with a clean record in a county jail for a brief stretch.”

A third option: Treatment

The consensus from professionals in the mental health and substance abuse industry, as well as many law makers and politicians, is that individuals battling mental illnesses should be properly treated in medical settings such as hospitals and rehabilitation centers as opposed to being placed in jail where little or no treatment is provided. Placing individuals with a mental illness or a substance abuse problem can worsen their illness, cost the state and federal government money, and contribute to the overcrowding of the prison systems. Eliminating the stigma of mental illness and spending money on treatment research instead of incarceration can only benefit society as a whole.

Sovereign Health is a leading treatment provider with locations across the United States and specializes in treating people with addiction and mental health diseases. We understand the complications that people encounter when they are in trouble with the law due to a behavioral health problem. Along with our effective and comprehensive treatment programs, we provide court services to assist those seeking help. For more information call the 24/7 helpline.

About the author

Kristen Fuller, M.D., is a senior staff writer at Sovereign Health and enjoys writing about evidence-based topic in the cutting world of medicine. She is a physician author who also teaches, practices medicine in the urgent care setting and contributes to medicine board education. She is an outdoor and dog enthusiast.  For more information and other inquiries about this article, contact the author at