Supervisors preserve funding for Pitchess upgrades

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Plans approved last summer to renovate the Pitchess Detention Center in Castaic as part of a sweeping jail upgrading project remain in place despite a decision made by county supervisors to abandon plans to revamp Men’s Central Jail.

On Tuesday, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted to redirect plans to replace the Men’s Central Jail facility in Downtown Los Angeles.

Rather than move ahead with plans to replace the facility with a mental health jail known as the Consolidated Correctional Treatment Facility, the board voted to replace the jail with a mental health treatment center operated by the Department of Health Services and staffed by the Department of Mental Health.

“Men’s Central Jail is a decrepit, outdated facility inconsistent with human values and basic decency,” Supervisor Janice Hahn said of one of the oldest jail facilities in California. “It puts both our inmates and our sheriff’s deputies at risk. It must be torn down.”

When asked if the scuttled renovation plans affected Pitchess, Hahn spokeswoman Liz Odendahl said no.

In June, county supervisors voted to renovate county jails, approving $2.21 billion to build a new Men’s Central Jail, and $12.6 million to renovate the Pitchess Detention Center in Castaic.

Citing medical and mental health services urgently needed for a growing number of inmates, supervisors at the time 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 were expected to provide additional health services for inmates with mental health and substance abuse problems, according to officials.

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.

Supervisors expressed a dire need to address mental health issues, beginning with a brand new facility.

Speaking about the urgency of such a facility, Mark Ghaly, director of the Los Angeles Community Health & Integrated Programs, told the board Tuesday: “Care first, rather than jail first.”

It was a sentiment echoed by Jonathan Sherin, the county’s director of mental health.

The board had been set to vote on whether to approve a design-build contract to build CCTF.

Instead, Hahn and Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas authored an amendment to move forward with the design-build contract but change the project to a mental health treatment center operated by the county’s Department of Health Services and staffed by the Department of Mental Health.

As opposed to the CCTF jail run by sheriff’s deputies, the mental health treatment center would be a treatment-centric facility focused on healing, not punishment.

“Thousands of people in our jail system right now suffer from severe mental illness and are not getting the treatment that they need,” Hahn said.

The departments of Mental Health, Public Health and Health Services will report back regarding the right size, scale and scope of the project including how the facility could fit into a continuum of decentralized clinical facilities. The ultimate goal of these facilities will be diversion to community-based mental health treatment whenever possible.

The renovations at Pitchess include demolishing some aspects of the East Facility.

Mark Pestrella, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works, wrote in June: “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,” Pestrella said 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.

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