The company that has been awarded a contract for Southern California's first privately run state prison is trying to lease the defunct Lake View Hospital in Lake View Terrace as a 200-bed juvenile detention center, a company official confirmed Wednesday.
Rex Barber, a director of Management and Training Corp. of Ogden, Utah, said representatives of the firm will meet with hospital owners next week. The 145-bed institution, which opened in 1960 as Pacoima Memorial Lutheran Hospital, was closed in March because of financial difficulties.
Idea Called 'Ludicrous'
Los Angeles City Councilman Howard Finn, who represents Lake View Terrace, labeled the company's plan "ludicrous."
"We need a medical facility here for the local people," he said. "The idea of putting a prison there is beyond anybody's imagination. I suppose they think this is a community that won't fight back. Well, they're wrong. It will."
If successful in negotiating the lease and obtaining permits, Barber said, the company will operate the juvenile center on a not-for-profit basis "in order to demonstrate that we want to provide our services to the state of California."
The plan to lease Lake View Hospital came to light Tuesday when the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors told Management and Training Corp. that it must secure the hospital lease or open a similar juvenile facility elsewhere to qualify for a permit to convert the Artesian Oaks juvenile detention camp near Saugus to a minimum-security prison for 100 state parole violators.
Rufus Morris, a state Department of Corrections official, said state officials are assessing exactly what the board meant by its demand.
'Could Be Damaging'
"If we cannot operate until the juvenile facility comes on line, it could be damaging," Morris said. "We might be paying costs for services not delivered."
Barry Nidorf, country Probation Department chief, said the board linked the two correctional facilities because existing juvenile institutions are too crowded to accommodate the 48 boys housed at the Artesian Oaks camp.
Under state law, the county cannot contract with for-profit correctional institutions to house juveniles, Nidorf said. Federal and state funds pay for about 95% of the county's costs in housing juveniles, he said. The county has lost beds in nonprofit juvenile detention facilities each year for a variety of reasons, including economics, zoning and liability insurance, he said. About 1,300 Los Angeles County juveniles who have not committed crimes serious enough to warrant incarceration in a California Youth Authority facility or a county probation camp are housed at places such as Rancho San Antonio boys home in Chatsworth and the Optimist Boys' Home in Highland Park, Nidorf said.
He said county officials are encouraging Management and Training Corp. to operate the nonprofit juvenile facility.
"Anyone could place children there, but the county would probably have the lion's share," Nidorf said. "We're short about 300 beds."
In the case of Artesian Oaks, Morris said the state will pay Management and Training Corp. a flat rate of about $35 per inmate per day during the life of a three-year contract. He said the amount will vary with each contract the state negotiates. Private prison operators must negotiate their own leases, Morris said, and provide their own start-up money.
Morris said state officials are not now considering private vendor contracts as an alternative to building more state prisons.
"These are return-to-custody facilities for low-risk parole violators," he said. "We hope they will help relieve overcrowding in both county and state correctional facilities."
It has taken Management and Training Corp. and the state more than a year to obtain a conditional use permit from the county to operate the adult prison, Morris said. The firm must go through the same process, as well get permission from the City Council, to open the juvenile center at the hospital, he said.
The company must then get the state to set a rate for the new nonprofit facility, and obtain a state operating license.
Unlike the Artesian Oaks camp, Barber said, the hospital building will require a minimum of renovation.
"It's a very nice facility," he said. "The owners have kept it in excellent condition."
Although no new buildings are needed at Artesian Oaks, Barber said, the company must make considerable improvements.