County may move mentally ill inmates to Castaic


County supervisors are poised to approve $5.6 million to provide improved mental health care for some 320 mentally ill inmates housed in downtown Los Angeles – and send them to the Pitchess Detention Center in Castaic for that care.

The transfer represents more than five times the number of mentally ill inmates already behind bars at Pitchess.

And the plan represents relocating from of the most mentally ill inmates of all county facilities to the Castaic detention center.

Board consideration

When the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors meets Tuesday, it is expected to vote on the recommendation of county Health Services officials to hire mental health specialists at a cost of $5,629,000 who would provide “correctional mental health services” for inmates suffering from mental illness.

In the county’s ongoing effort to improve the overall quality and delivery of “correctional health services,” Dr. Mitchell H. Katz identified the need for “expanded mental health capacity” at the Pitchess Detention Center’s North Facility in a letter he drafted to the board pre-dated for Sept. 20, 2016.

The letter is intended to be read at the board meeting on that date.

Katz, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services, recommends the county draw up a contract with the Liberty Healthcare Corporation.

Under the plan, about 320 inmates suffering from mental illness at the Twin Towers Correctional Facility in downtown Los Angeles would be transferred to Pitchess.

Ill population

Mentally ill inmates are locked up in cells defined as Moderate Observation Housing – a type of housing designed for inmates with a broad range of mental health diagnoses.

According to Katz, mentally ill inmates can get the care they need at the MOH level because it’s a “less intensive and more open setting” than being locked up in a “high observation housing” (HOH) cell.

Mentally ill inmates, he noted, cannot be housed in the general population “because of their mental illness.”

Inmates in MOH cells are often on psychiatric medications, and require a full array of mental health services as well as services for treatment of co-occurring substance use disorders, his letter reads.

On average, about 65 mentally ill inmates are housed at Pitchess.

The feedback from these inmates about the care they receive at Pitchess has been “very positive,” Katz wrote in his letter to the board.

Transition plan

If the plan is approved Tuesday, the number of mentally ill inmates at Pitchess “will then ramp up to 320 inmates, in intervals of 80 inmates every 3 to 4 weeks,” he wrote.

The Katz recommendation comes on the heels of a report presented to supervisors a year ago that showed a sharp rise in the number of mentally ill inmates in county jails.

The report prepared by Health Management Associates and called, the Los Angeles County Consolidated Correctional Treatment Facility Population Analysis and Community Heath Care Continuum, was presented to the county board in August 2015.

It referred to the Twin Towers as housing “the most severe mental health population in the LASD facilities.”

“Space in each of the mental health treatment and housing areas is at a premium,” the report stated.

In order to “accommodate the steady rise in volume of mentally ill patient-inmates that has most notably occurred over the past five years,” the number of cells – both MOH and HOH – had to be increased.

The mental health population increased from 14.9 percent to 19.6 percent of the LASD’s jail population  between 2010 and August 2015.

The County’s Health Services department is the second largest municipal health system in the country.

It cares for 670,000 “unique patients,” according to the website, employs 19,000 people and has an annual operating budget of $4 billion.

The Board of Supervisors meets Tuesday at 9:30 a.m. at the Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration, 500 West Temple Street, in Los Angeles.

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