Mental health center at California Men's Colony to open in August

acornejo@thetribunenews.comJuly 25, 2013 

A $23 million mental health facility at the California Men’s Colony is expected to open in August to fulfill a federal mandate calling for improved care of the incarcerated mentally ill.

The licensed 50-bed correctional treatment center will provide temporary care for inmates suffering a mental health crisis.

Inmates from throughout the state who are suicidal or a threat to others will be transferred and cared for in the new facility by a team of nurses, psychiatric technicians and doctors. Correctional officers will maintain the security of the building.

“When an inmate is deemed to be in crisis, they are a danger to everyone, including themselves,” said Lt. Frank Perez, CMC spokesman.

The two-story 45,000-square-foot building, located at the south end of the prison’s East facility, includes intake holding rooms, medical evaluation offices, two cell blocks, a pharmacy, outdoor recreation cells and administrative offices. Two hundred new employees will be needed to staff the 24-hour facility.

Special features include a padded room used for inmates deemed a danger to themselves and two pressurized rooms for inmates with contagious airborne illnesses such as tuberculosis.

The high-voltage electrified fence that surrounds the prison — and is powerful enough to instantly kill a person — is extended to enclose the new facility.

The mental health facility is not intended to house inmates for long-term care. The average stay is expected to be 10 days.

In addition, the prison will keep a 36-bed interim crisis unit that it has been operating in its main facility, Perez said.

The prison also has a licensed general acute care hospital and provides mental health care to more than 600 of its 5,142 inmates deemed to have high mental health needs.

“The reduction of mental health hospitals basically means that the prisons are now taking care of those inmates,” Perez said.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation estimates that about 34,000 inmates — or 25 percent of the state prison system population — require some form of mental health treatment.

The mental health facility at California Men’s Colony is one of 15 planned to provide acute mental health care to inmates. The state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation is spending $3.5 billion to build the new treatment facilities to comply with court-mandated levels of care, according to department officials.

GALLERY: More photos of the new mental health facility »

Reach AnnMarie Cornejo at 781-7939. Stay updated by following @a_cornejo on Twitter.

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