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California opens new prison psychiatric ward

The facility in Vacaville will provide outpatient treatment for mentally ill inmates who do not require 24-hour care. Officials contend the center is proof the state is ready to end U.S. oversight.

February 19, 2013|By Paige St. John, Los Angeles Times
  • Inmates await treatment at the new mental health unit at the California Medical Facility in Vacaville, Calif. The $24-million treatment center for mentally ill inmates opened Thursday as state corrections officials used the occasion to push for ending federal oversight of that aspect of prison operations.
Inmates await treatment at the new mental health unit at the California… (Rich Pedroncelli, Associated…)

SACRAMENTO — California prison officials have opened a new psychiatric center for inmates, contending that 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.

"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 care that California gives mentally ill prisoners is the subject of fierce contention in U.S. District Court, where the state has filed a legal bid to end federal oversight and lift inmate population caps that California concedes it cannot now meet.

A document filed Friday shows the state's prison population remains 49% above what the facilities were designed to hold. One lockup, Central California Women's Facility, is packed to 82% above its design capacity.

Expecting to also request an end to federal healthcare oversight, state officials have announced they intend this week to bring a group of Texas experts to California to inspect three prisons.

Lawyers for inmates have asked a federal judge to allow them to join the inspection tour. Lawyers for the state argue that doing so would be an "impermissible invasion into privileged communications."

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

paige.stjohn@latimes.com

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