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State opens new prison psychiatric center

February 18, 2013|By Paige St. John, Los Angeles Times
  • Inmates await treatment at the new mental health treatment unit at the California Medical Facility in Vacaville, Calif.
Inmates await treatment at the new mental health treatment unit at the California… (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated…)

California prison officials have opened a new psychiatric center for inmates, contending the $24-million treatment facility is proof the state is ready to shed federal oversight of mental-health care for prisoners.

The new building at the California Medical Facility in Vacaville will provide outpatient treatment for mentally ill inmates who do not require 24-hour care. Its opening was accompanied by positioning for the courts.

“It’s time for the federal courts to recognize the progress the state has made and end costly and unnecessary federal oversight,” Jeffrey Beard, secretary of the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, said in prepared remarks.

The kind of care that California gives mentally ill inmates is the subject of fierce contention in U.S. District Court, where the state has filed a legal bid to end federal oversight as well as lift prison population caps that California concedes it cannot currently meet. A document filed Friday shows state's prison population remains 49% above what the facilities were designed to hold, with Central California Women's Facility at 82% above its design capacity.

In anticipation of also filing in court a request to end federal healthcare oversight, state officials have announced they intend this week to bring a group of Texas experts to inspect three prisons. Lawyers for inmates have asked a federal judge to allow them to accompany the state's experts on their inspection tour. Lawyers for the state argue that doing so would be an "impermissible invasion into privileged communications."

Judge Thelton Henderson in San Francisco has scheduled a hearing Tuesday morning to consider the dispute.

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