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A New Life for Closed Ojai Jail to Be Explored

September 10, 2003|Catherine Saillant | Times Staff Writer

Rebuffing a vocal citizens' group, Ventura County supervisors Tuesday reaffirmed their commitment to exploring whether the shuttered Honor Farm near Ojai could be converted into a mental health treatment facility.

Finding more beds for county residents suffering from serious mental illnesses is a top priority, supervisors said. They chided Honor Farm neighbors for opposing a center even before it has been officially proposed.

"We are not voting yes or no today -- we are just doing a feasibility study. And it has to be done," Supervisor John Flynn said.

Supervisors are not considering any specific proposal. Rather, they have asked for cost estimates and legal issues involved with converting the former women's jail to a locked mental health treatment center serving about 50 patients. Those residents currently go out of the county for services.

Supervisor Kathy Long said she was disturbed by the comments of some opponents who addressed the board Tuesday. The comments implied that any mental facility would be tantamount to living next door to a prison for the criminally insane.

"This board has a responsibility to care for all of those in need," Long said. "Mental illness is a disease and not a crime."

Supervisor Steve Bennett, whose district includes the Honor Farm, said he was confident any proposal that came forward would make security a top issue. Once residents understand that, their compassion will rise, he predicted.

"We are responsible for medical treatment," he said. "We are not a state prison."

Officials said the feasibility study likely would not be completed for several months because of political unrest caused by the recall election and continuing budget problems.

The study may show that it could be too expensive to proceed with any conversion, Supervisor Judy Mikels said.

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