LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca was set to take part in a hearing Friday to improve access to mental health care for parolees and other at-risk groups.
Baca was expected to provide testimony before a special Senate Select Committee on Mental Health tasked with reducing stubbornly high recidivism rates among the estimated 33,000 inmates statewide that suffer from mental illness.
Baca told KNX 1070 NEWSRADIO his department has already taken steps to improve health care in county jails.
“They go in bad and they go in with problems, particularly mental health as well as decision-making problems,” Baca said, adding three charter schools have been established in county facilities to tackle illiteracy.
According to the non-partisan Legislative Analyst’s Office, the state spends an average of $52,000 annually to house a single inmate, while the average annual cost of housing a mentally ill inmate can run twice as high.
Baca will be joined at the hearing by State Assemblyman Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) and actor Danny Trejo, who overcame addiction and a prison sentence to go on to a successful film career.
Experts were also expected to be on hand to to explain the benefits of treating parolees to improve lives and save millions of taxpayer dollars in prison costs.
Earlier this month, the Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to study a plan to replace at least one tower of the Men’s Central Jail in downtown L.A. with a mental health and substance abuse treatment center.
But for Baca, the growing issue of mental health demands that jails take on a whole new responsibility.
“Whether it’s depression, mental illness, illiteracy, decision-making deficiencies, the whole point of this is that the jails now have to become mental health care facilities,” he said.
The Senate Committee hearing gets underway at 11:30 a.m. at the White Memorial Medical Center in East L.A.