The Castaic Area Town Council heard reassurances from Los Angeles County officials on Wednesday night regarding concerns council members had expressed over the proposed transfer of 320 mentally ill prisoners from the Twins Towers jail in downtown L.A. to the Pitchess Detention Center’s North facility in Castaic.
While the council has no power to approve or deny any such transfer — and was acting more as an information vehicle to area residents — members came away from the half-hour discussion expressing trust there will be no increased danger to area residents as a result of the transfer program.
“I trust you guys,” Council member Jim Idleman told the county officials after Wednesday’s Q-and-A at the Castaic Union School District.
Lt. Dave Rush, acting captain of Pitchess North and one of the officials who addressed the council, said all of the inmates would be considered in the medium-security range, with none classified as sexually violent predators.
The council also heard from Tim Belavich, a clinical psychologist from the county Department of Health Service’s Division of Correctional Health Care Services.
“These are the healthiest of our inmates in terms of their being introduced to the mental-health process,’’ Belavich said. “They are toward the healthier end, holding jobs, going to work (within the walls of jail).”
In a pilot program, 80 mentally ill inmates already were transferred, in June, to Pitchess North, and Rush reported, “Since they’ve been here, it’s been surprisingly smooth.”
“I would have no more concerns with the group we put in that I would with the (jail’s) general population,” Rush said.
Rush also said Pitchess’ overall population has not, and would not, grow as a result of the transfer program. Other inmates were moved out to accommodate the newcomers, and that would continue with subsequent transfers, he said.
They would be housed in a separate unit, apart from the jail’s general population, Rush said.
The transfer is part of a proposal that would allocate $5.629 million for overall improvement of mental-health care for county inmates – and county supervisors had planned to discuss the matter at their meeting on Tuesday.
But at the urging of Castaic council member John Kunak, they postponed that discussion for two weeks, to allow the county officials to address the council.
The proposal the supervisors will revisit following Tuesday’s postponement contracts the improved mental-health care to Liberty Healthcare Corporation through November 2018.
The transfer inmates are already getting mental-health treatment – everything from psychotropic drugs to counseling – at the Twin Towers, but Belavich said Pitchess North would provide a more spacious and productive environment.
“The physical setting contributes to their getting better,” he told The Signal.
If the Board of Supervisors approves the program at its next meeting, inmates would be transferred in groups of 80 shortly afterward.
“The mentally ill are underserved, and I’m all for (the improved care inmates would get at Pitchess),” Council member Flo Lawrence said.
Dr. Mitchell H. Katz, director of Health Services for Los Angeles County, has recommend the supervisors adopt the transfer plan.