Sex Offender Law Yields Hefty Pay for Mental Health Professionals
The Department of Mental Health is drawing criticism for large payments to private psychologists and psychiatrists who contract with the department to perform evaluations of convicted sex offenders, the Los Angeles Times reports.
The 2006 ballot initiative called "Jessica's Law" expanded the number of convicted sex offenders who are required to undergo evaluations to determine whether they should be hospitalized after serving criminal sentences.
To perform the evaluations, DMH has relied on contract psychologists and psychiatrists, paying more than $24 million for such services in 2007. Fourteen contract psychologists and psychiatrists each billed the state at least $500,000 last year, according to the Times.
To recruit contractors, the department almost doubled its standard compensation to $3,500 for an initial evaluation and $200 per hour for legal testimony and travel.
DMH Director Stephen Mayberg said that contract workers have helped reduce a backlog of evaluations and that cases now can be distributed more evenly to more contractors. However, he said that the fees will remain high and that the overall program costs will not change substantially.
The California Personnel Board recently ruled that using contractors to perform the evaluations violated state law by not using state employees to perform the work. The board ordered DMH to fill evaluator positions with regular state staff members.
Mayberg said that four of 80 vacancies have been filled, despite pay increases.
DMH officials have worked with representatives of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees -- the union that represents state psychologists -- to develop legislation to permit DMH to use contractors until 2011. The bill also would require DMH officials to testify before the Legislature twice annually about hiring evaluators and the costs and implications of the program.
The Assembly could vote on the bill as early as this week (Piller/Romney, Los Angeles Times, 8/10).