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Sheriff says proposed mental health cuts would burden L.A. jails

May 25, 2010 |  2:08 pm

http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/.a/6a00d8341c630a53ef0120a57a6216970b-320wiLos Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca on Tuesday blasted cuts to mental health services in the Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's proposed budget, saying they would burden the county’s already overcrowded jails.

Baca estimated that the Sheriff's Department currently has about 2,500 inmates with mental health problems in its jails, many of them in the Twin Towers facility in downtown Los Angeles. Critics have asserted that the number of mentally ill inmates is much higher, with many landing in Men’s Central Jail, a facility less equipped for mental health care.

Cutting funding to community mental health services would push the mentally ill out of clinics, onto the streets and, for many, eventually into the jails, Baca said.

“Los Angeles County jails are already the largest mental health provider in the country,” Baca said. “The timing of these cuts could not come at a worse time.”

Providing preventative mental health services in community clinics, Baca said, would be a more efficient use of tax dollars than paying for that care in jails.

“Shifting costs to the criminal justice system … is not wise public policy,” he said. 

Mental health officials estimate that the governor’s budget proposal, if passed, would redirect more than $600 million in county mental health funds. That loss in funding, officials said, would be compounded because it would limit the potential for matching federal funds.

A report released by the American Civil Liberties Union recently asserted that county jails are under-serving their mentally ill inmates. According to that report, in 2008, almost a quarter of inmates required mental health services, but only about 12% were receiving treatment.

-- Robert Faturechi

Photo: Sheriff Lee Baca. Credit: Los Angeles Times