Revamped jail means tailored treatment of inmates with mental health issues

County supervisors voted Tuesday to renovate county jails, approving $2.21 billion to build a new Men’s Central Jail, and $12 million to renovate the Pitchess Detention Center in Castaic.

Citing medical and mental health services urgently needed for a growing number of inmates, The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously in favor of a budget set up for jail renovation — called the Consolidated Correctional Treatment Facility Construction and Renovation Project — and the report detailing its anticipated impact on the environment.

The upgrades are also expected to provide additional health services for inmates with mental health and substance abuse problems, according to officials.

The approved budget for the total project amounts to $2,218,231,000.

The plan to renovate the jail on Biscailuz Drive at The Old Road in Castaic is called the Pitchess Detention Center East Facility Renovation Project and comes with a budget of $12,566,000.

About 400 inmates of the Men’s Central Jail, specifically, those inmates in the jail’s infirmary,are to be housed temporarily at Pitchess, according to the plans. Accommodating them is expected to be problem-free, LASD officials said this week.

“The total Pitchess Detention Center population will increase by approximately 400,” Nicole Nishida said. “These inmates will be housed at East Facility which is currently housing only a fraction of the total available population.”

400 extra inmates

In a letter to county supervisors, Mark Pestrella, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works, addressed the impact 400 inmates would have on the current jail population.

“Approval of the recommended actions will have little or no impact on current services at Men’s Central Jail and the Twin Towers Correctional Facility,” he explained.

“The existing Pitchess Detention Center East (Facility) inmates will be temporarily relocated to other vacant on-site facilities prior to the start of selective demolition and hazardous materials abatement,” he said.

“All other administrative operations at PDC East will not be impacted,” he said.

Code compliance

About demolishing some aspects of the East Facility, Pestrella wrote: “The  existing PDC East will require code compliance upgrades to meet Americans with Disabilities Act standards.”

“The proposed construction includes renovation of existing inmate housing, restroom

facilities, the visitation area, and first floor clinic space,” he explained in the letter dated June 19.

“The existing recreation yard at PDC East would be modified to meet mandated recreation time standards for all the inmates,” he said.

“To expedite construction and address potential unforeseen conditions, Public Works intends to

perform selective demolition for code compliance upgrades and hazardous materials abatement of areas at PDC East that will be impacted by the proposed construction,” Pestrella wrote in his letter to supervisors.

The job of updating mental health facilities has been in the works for close 40 years.

Closed facilities

In the 1980s, mental health facilities were closed throughout the state and left a “vulnerable population” untreated, according to public health officials.

With reduced secure mental health facilities comes limited treatment options for inmates with a mental health diagnosis who are headed to jail, ending up in facilities not equipped to meet their needs.

The Men’s Central Jail was built in the 60s and 70s, and wasn’t designed to treat inmates with severe medical and mental health conditions.

As a result, the facility does not have the capacity to meet the needs of the current inmate population, many of whom are medically fragile or suffering from serious substance-use and medical and/or mental illness.

In reaching their decision Tuesday to green light the jail overhaul budget, supervisors weighed a number of statistics presented to them.

Serious substance use

More than 70 percent of the Los Angeles County inmate population reports serious substance-use and medical and/or mental illness.

With that in mind, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and County Health Agency got together to propose a correctional treatment facility that would replace the Men’s Central Jail already more than a half-century old.

County officials hope the renovated jails will become a national model in the way medical and mental health services are provided to the growing inmate-patient population in the criminal justice system.

Tearing down the old and replacing it with a new appreciation for how mental health inmates are treated brings with it a change in attitude, public works officials explained to supervisors.

“The proposed facility intends to create a paradigm shift in the way the County cares for inmate-patients, with a focus on treatment and rehabilitation, rather than just incarceration. The proposed facility will provide educational, rehabilitation, and life skills programs that would help rebuild lives, facilitate reintegration into society, and thus reduce recidivism and enhance public safety.”

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