What everybody agreed was a routine matter — allocating $5.6 million to contract out mental-health services for county prisoners, and transferring 320 of them from the Twin Towers jail in downtown L.A. to the Pitchess North jail in Castaic – finally got the chance to be handled routinely by the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.
After continuing the item for three straight weeks, each time at the request of some outside body, the supervisors at last got to vote on the proposal, and they approved it by a 5-0 vote.
The supervisors had put the issue on their consent calendar – where items are considered routine and typically pass – for the Sept. 20, Oct. 4 and Oct. 11 meetings before tabling it each time.
The first postponement came at the request of the Castaic Area Town Council, which sought a meeting with officials from the Sheriff’s Department and the county Health Services Department. The council wanted – and received — assurances that the influx of prisoners would not post a danger to Castaic residents.
The next two delays came at the request of the Health Services Department, which said it needed more time to finalize the program’s staffing ratios between county workers and workers for Liberty Healthcare, which won the contract.
The deal with Liberty is part of an overall improvement push for mental-health care for county inmates. It runs through November 2018.
“This is a good thing,” Dr. Mark Ghaly, the Health Services Department’s deputy director for community health, told The Signal on Tuesday, after the vote.
“I think we’ll be able to provide really good care to these inmates in a much more therapeutic environment.’’
The inmates already get mental-health treatment – everything from psychotropic drugs to counseling – at the Twin Towers. But Tim Belavich, a clinical psychologist from the Health Service’s Division of Correctional Health Care Services, said Pitchess would provide a more spacious and productive environment.
“The physical setting contributes to their getting better,” Belavich said.
Ghaly said Tuesday that a handful of prisoners have already been moved from the Twin Towers to Pitchess as the Health Services Department “tested the model.”
He was not certain on the timetable for the rest of the transfers, saying it was a matter of how quickly Liberty can assign staff, and determining which prisoners would partake of the program. Visitation difficulties would be one factor in choosing which prisoners would make the transfer, Ghaly said.
“I hope we’ll figure this all out in the next two weeks,’’ he added.
According to Lt. Dave Rush, acting captain of Pitchess North, all of the inmates would be considered in the medium-security range, with none classified as sexually violent predators.
“I would have no more concerns with the group we put in that I would with the (jail’s) general population,” Rush told the Castaic council back in September.