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Supervisors to Look at Issues of Health Care, Overcrowding Facing County Jail

The board will hear reports on the effects of a public safety realignment bill and meeting long-term inmates' medical and mental-health needs

Two reports about the challenges facing the Santa Barbara County Jail — on inmate health care and overcrowding — will be considered Tuesday by the Board of Supervisors.

One report from Sheriff Bill Brown will outline the effects the County Jail has seen from Assembly Bill 109, the public safety realignment bill aimed at reducing overcrowding, costs and recidivism in state prisons.

Under the law, more convicted criminals are allowed to serve their sentences in county jails rather than be sent to state prisons.

Since AB109 was implemented, jail officials say, they’ve seen an increase in the jail population, about 24 percent more prisoners than expected.

Prior to that bill, a sentenced inmate could only spend a maximum of one year in county jail, but because more serious offenders are ending up in the county, the sentence times are increasing exponentially, Brown said in the report, noting that last month, a man was sentenced to serve 23 years in the county jail. 

“With long-term inmates, we anticipate that medical and mental-health needs will rise,” Brown said in a letter to the supervisors.

Last month, that point was illustrated as the supervisors were forced to approve an unbudgeted $500,000 to pay for prescriptions needed for an inmate with a life-threatening condition. The man had formerly paid for his prescription through Medi-Cal, but no longer qualifies because he is in jail.

Though the inmate was not in jail as a result of AB109, Brown told the supervisors then that he expects more challenges as the jail is forced to assume mental and physical health care of long-term inmates.

According to data from the sheriff, 81 percent of inmates in the jail don’t have insurance at all. Another 12 percent have Medi-Cal, Medicare or Medicaid, but those programs do not apply once a person is in jail.

Only 7 percent of inmates have private insurance, which may or may not reimburse the jail for medical services. The jail doesn’t have data to determine how many of those inmates have reimburseable costs.

The department currently contracts with private company Corizon for inmate medical and mental-health care, and that contract expires next year. Officials say they’ll consider requiring the vendor to provide a position that would track and bill private insurance companies.

The supervisors also will hear Tuesday from county staff about the costs of jail compared with providing stabilizing services for the homeless mentally ill population. 

The Santa Barbara County Grand Jury published a report last year imploring supervisors to better serve the homeless mentally ill.

“The jury believes the cost of jailing and tending to the medical needs of these individuals on an ad hoc, recurring basis is greater than the cost of a planned and sustained effort that addresses their problems at the outset,” the report stated.

County staff authored a cost analysis in response to the report that will be discussed Tuesday. Staff found that the cost to incarcerate a homeless person with mental illness is estimated to be 25 percent higher than providing that person supportive services like housing and treatment.

If those services aren’t enough, the report said, the jail will continue to be the largest mental health institution in the county.

Tuesday’s meeting is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. in the board hearing room on the fourth floor of the County Administration Building, 105 E. Anapamu St. in Santa Barbara.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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