In a move to improve mental health care in its troubled juvenile justice system, Los Angeles County probation officials want to build a 70-bed hospital to treat the most seriously ill youths in custody, reports the Los Angeles Times. The facility, which would cost $5 million to $10 million, would allow transferring incarcerated juveniles now in 24-hour isolation into a clinical setting. Probation Chief Robert Taylor called it “something that should have been done a long time ago.”
It is not clear where money would come from to build the hospital. Taylor believes the hospital would save money over time. Moving juveniles from lockdown to a hospital setting would free up probation staff, as well as allow the county to seek Medi-Cal and Medicare reimbursements, which are permitted if youths are treated in clinical facilities. It takes about 150 staffers each year to provide the 24-hour monitoring at a cost of between $1 million and $2 million. More than 15,000 youth were treated last fiscal year by county mental health staff at probation facilities. Up To 40 percent of juveniles in county custody at any given time, typically about 3,600, need mental health treatment. Such care ranges from anger management counseling to psychotropic medication. Susan Burrell of the Youth Law Center in San Francisco said the proposal was “a creative way to approach the issue” and noted that it would allow the probation department to tap into state and federal funds.