New mental health center draws fire at County Board meeting

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Mental health programs in the Los Angeles County correctional system moved forward on Tuesday, when the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted to tear down Men’s Central Jail and build a mental health treatment center in downtown Los Angeles.

The treatment center, which would replace Men’s Central Jail, would be run by the Department of Health Services and staffed by the Department of Mental Health rather than the Sheriff’s Department. Directors of those departments stressed that a “care first” philosophy would be followed.

The facility would be built instead of the planned Consolidated Correctional Treatment Facility (CCTF), which was the initial item up for debate on Tuesday. However, many criticized the decision. As planned at a maximum of 3,885 beds, the facility would be three times the size of the state’s largest mental health hospital.

“It’s still trapped in the legacy of the CCTF,” said Mark-Anthony Johnson of Dignity & Power Now.

Supervisor Sheila Kuehl echoed those sentiments, saying that although she appreciated the idea of transforming the site into a mental health facility, too many logistical questions remained up in the air. Additionally, Supervisor Hilda Solis warned that operating such a treatment center could prove too expensive.

“I don’t think that in the years to come the county’s going to be able to look for … any guarantee that we’re going to get Medicaid funding to provide the services,” Solis said.

The population of inmates who are medically or mentally ill has surged in recent years, making up an estimated 70% of people held in the county jail system. For that reason, many community advocates said that the facility could become simply another jail, in the guise of a treatment center.

“You cannot provide good mental health care in a facility built for 4,000 people,” Peter Eliasberg of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California told the Board. “It’s preposterous.”

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