Pitchess prisoner transfer postponed again


For the second time in two weeks, the County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday postponed a vote authorizing $5.6 million to contract out services for 320 mentally ill inmates, who would be transferred from the Twins Towers jail in downtown L.A. to the Pitchess Detention Center’s North facility in Castaic.

Both times, an outside party asked for the postponement, and both times the supervisors agreed.

Two weeks ago, the request came from the Castaic Area Town Council, which expressed concern over the possibility of increased danger to area residents from the influx of new inmates.

Tuesday, the request came from the County Department of Health Services, which needs another week to fully evaluate staffing of the plan, according to Dr. Mark Ghaly, the department’s deputy director for community health.

The contract for treatment of the mentally ill inmates would run through November 2018, and would be awarded to Liberty Healthcare.

The issue is now expected to be taken up at the supervisors’ Oct. 11 meeting. It had been on the supervisors’ consent calendar, where matters are considered routine and typically passed.

That remains the case here, Ghaly said.

“There’s still a clear path forward,’’ Ghaly told The Signal.

“We just want to take a closer look at the positions in the contract … to determine if it’s the right mix of staff (between Liberty and county workers),” he said – stressing the postponement request was just a routine safeguard, not an indication the plan is in peril.

It’s a case of “choosing things that Liberty can do well and do immediately, and the things that the county workers can do well and do immediately,” Ghaly said.

The idea all along was for a mix of county and Liberty staff, he said – adding that the $5.6 million contract is for two years, and there is an eye toward using only county health workers in the future.

Another element of the delay, Ghaly said, is that the health department wants to make sure sheriff’s deputies, who run the Pitchess jail, are fully briefed.

The transfer-and-treatment plan is part of an overall improvement push for mental-health care for county inmates.

Following the first postponement, the Castaic Council met with officials from the county health and sheriff’s departments, and came away assured there would be no dangers to residents who live near the Pitchess facility.

Lt. Dave Rush, acting captain of Pitchess North, said all the transferred prisoners would be medium-security risks, with none classified as sexually violent predators.

Tim Belavich, a clinical psychologist for the health department, said Pitchess North would provide a more spacious setting for the prisoners that would be more conducive to treatment.

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