Idaho Grapples with Civil Commitment, Budget

BOISE, Idaho — It took seven years and three directors in the state corrections office to make it happen, but the design-development phase is completed for the Idaho Department of Correction’s planned mental medical health facility.
The $48 million mental medical health unit — the first of its kind in the state — will be located in Boise, and is being designed by San Francisco-based KMD Architects. The facility will feature 300 beds for male and female inmates housed in separate areas, as well as separate circulation for mentally ill inmates.
However, while the facility has been approved by the state legislature, plans for the actual construction of the facility are on hold while Idaho grapples with its 2010 fiscal year budget, says John MacAllister, the director at KMD who got the ball rolling on the design component.
The facility is needed because Idaho has an above-average population of mentally ill inmates, says Mary Perrien, chief of education and treatment at the DOC. She explained that in Idaho, there is a law on the books that allows for mentally ill and civilly committed people who have been deemed dangerous to be assigned to DOC facilities. 
“Sometimes courts will send people to correctional facilities when they are in the adjudication process to get an assessment done,” Perrien says.
She added that presently there are only three beds system-wide that are allocated for such individuals.
“When I first got to Idaho that was one of my big concerns,” Perrien says. “The treatment environment for those individuals that are currently housed in our maximum security prisons was rather alarming to me. Because there are so few of them they are often locked down more than other inmates and it did not seem to be a good therapeutic milieu.”
The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare operates the mental health facilities in the state. However, Perrien says that due to the security concerns associated with mentally ill inmates, that the DHW was supportive of the plan for the DOC to open its own facility. 
There was also support in the Idaho state legislature and governor’s office, but funding was difficult to secure. And so the project languished on the bureaucratic drawing board until KMD’s MacAllister, who has built his career on designing “humane” prison settings, noticed an article on the project in Correctional News.
“I first became aware of Idaho’s proposed stand-alone correctional mental health project in 2004 when I read in Correctional News that they had been trying for some years to get funding but were yet again unable to do so,” MacAllister says. “I contacted the IDOC directly and began a dialogue with Pat Donaldson, their building operations manager.
KMD offered to provide a study to more clearly identify project operations, program and scope requirements, MacAllister says. 
“When this was completed, the IDOC presented the resulting document to the state funding agency and it was again declined,” he says.
MacAllister kept in contact with the DOC and KMD worked on the project again in 2007 after the DOC obtained state financing. 
In 2009, an RFP was published and KMD teamed with the Boise-based LCA Architects a firm that had a strong relationship with the DOC. Under the partnership, LCA working as the architect of record while collaborating closely with KMD, which served as the architect of planning and design. 
MacAllister, who has worked on numerous justice facilities projects, including California’s secure treatment facility in Coalinga, says the Idaho project was programmatically more complex than similar facilities because it will house male and female inmates.
Additionally, he found that he was a servant to two masters with differing interests. First there was Perrien, whose emphasis was on mental health and treatment options, and then there was the DOC correctional administration, which was coming at the project from a purely correctional stance.
“This required an enormous focus on operational separations while maintaining a very tight budget,” MacAllister says. “There was also a need to maximize the use of individual program and treatment space to ensure maximum utilization throughout the day and into the evening, which presented a scheduling and movement conundrum to the equation. In the end, I believe that we came up with a plan solution that answered most all of the DOC’s concerns.”
With the DOC’s recidivism-reduction program, there will be a component of treatment at the new facility and inmates will have the opportunity to obtain a GED, Perrien says. Vocational development will also be offered to eligible inmates with training that targets employment opportunities in Idaho. Multipurpose space that can be reconfigured throughout the day to meet service needs for the population was added during the design phase.
KMD spent the bulk of its design efforts on the interior treatment environment to maximize the therapeutic aspects of the facility, MacAllister says. However, the exterior of the facility was less elaborate than originally planned because the DOC was cautious of how the public would perceive how its tax dollars are being spent in what is still a very harsh economy. 
The design still includes natural light, access to the outdoors and views, the selective use of color and texture, and sensitivity to acoustics, to name a partial list of accoutrements.