This editorial was published by the Idaho Press of Nampa.
The story of Katelyn Hodges is heartbreaking.
As reported recently by the Idaho Press, the 28-year-old woman, who has developmental disabilities and a tendency for violent outbursts, has spent the past 13 years — her entire adult life — in and out of the criminal justice system. Hodges has schizoaffective bipolar disorder and autism. Her mental capacity is that of an 8-year-old, according to her mother.
Finding a safe place to live has been an issue for the family since Hodges was 15. In the community, she can be a harm to herself and others. When she runs afoul of the law, the court typically finds her incompetent to face charges, and Hodges is released from jail and must try again to find community housing that works. But more than a dozen health facilities have turned Hodges away after outbursts injured staff or damaged property.
Her family and law enforcement all agree that Idaho lacks housing options specializing in this type of secure care. Someone with such acute mental issues should not be in a jail or a prison. And it’s not realistic for family members to care for them alone.
Unfortunately, there’s nowhere else to turn to in Idaho.
The Southwest Idaho Treatment Center in Nampa has proven an effective tool for Hodges.
Last month, after Hodges landed in Canyon County Jail for the third time in one month, 3rd Judicial District Judge John Meienhofer ordered the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare to take guardianship of Hodges. Previously, she was her own guardian. Hodges was moved to SWITC on June 28.
SWITC specializes in caring for residents with developmental disabilities with the goal of restoring them back into the community.
State lawmakers in 2017 approved the Secure Treatment Facility Act, which paved the way for SWITC to open a secure facility on campus for residents who posed a safety threat.
But two years later, the secure facility has still not opened.
The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, which runs SWITC, has put the project on hold while the state reviews how it runs SWITC, which has faced a range of issues in recent years, including lawsuits from clients’ families and investigations into abuse and neglect allegations.
We urge the Department of Health and Welfare and our state legislators to make this secure facility a priority. We believe the state, with the proper oversight, inspections, training and properly paid staff, can run a successful, secure facility, if not at SWITC, then in another facility.
We believe, as Katelyn Hodges’ story illustrates, that this is an urgent matter. We believe there are other people like Katelyn Hodges and her family out there who need this service.
Some may balk at the high cost of providing a secure facility for those with mental health issues. But when you consider that Hodges has been in and out of custody multiple times over the past 10 years, we believe it makes more fiscal sense to provide services in a secure facility for Hodges and others like her than to have her in and out of the criminal justice system, damaging property, being arrested, going to jail, injuring deputies, going before a judge, into a facility for evaluation and treatment, back into the community only to reoffend, thrown back in jail, over and over again.
We support the work of the SWITC Advisory Board, which has been meeting since November to discuss the best housing options for individuals like Hodges, including a new treatment model that includes a secure option. We counsel urgency in the matter, and we hope the Department of Health and Welfare and state legislators heed the board’s recommendations.
Let’s get a secure facility for treatment for people like Katelyn Hodges.