Ventura County Considers Converting Former Jail to Inpatient Treatment Center for Mental Illness
The County of Ventura Board of Supervisors on Tuesday voted to conduct a feasibility study for a possible conversion of a former medium-security jail to a facility to treat people with mental illnesses, the Los Angeles Times reports. The study will collect cost estimates and information about legal issues for the facility, which would house about 50 patients (Saillant, Los Angeles Times, 9/10). The board of supervisors in July unanimously approved a plan by supervisors Steve Bennett and Linda Parks to examine how the 117 acres of land in Ojai Valley might be used to house county residents with mental illnesses. Advocates for mental health have asked the board for more facilities for mentally ill patients unable to live without assistance. In 1996, the county's only inpatient treatment facility -- Camarillo State Hospital -- closed, and since then about 50 mentally ill residents per year are sent to out-of-county facilities at an annual cost of $2.5 million, according to the Times (Saillant, Los Angeles Times, 9/9). A grand jury report released in May found that jails have become the largest provider of shelter for people with severe mental illnesses in the county as housing for people with mental illnesses continues to decrease. Ventura County has fewer than 40 beds for adult patients with mental illnesses per 100,000 residents, while Santa Barbara and Kern counties have more than 150 beds per 100,000 county residents (California Healthline, 5/27).
Some residents who live near the former jail oppose the proposed conversion to a mental illness center. A coalition of residents called the Committee for Honor Farm Options says that crime in the area may increase and that people with mental illnesses may escape if the facility is created (Los Angeles Times, 9/9). But supporters of the proposal say some opponents' concerns are unfounded. "What I see here is a lot of fear," Jim Matthews, former president of the Ventura County chapter of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, said, adding, "[I]f we don't provide the facilities, we're going to be in a lot more [trouble]" (Levin, Ventura County Star, 9/4). County supervisors have said that it is too early to determine the likelihood of the conversion (Los Angeles Times, 9/9).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.