Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell plans to seek funding for more than 160 new deputies and support personnel to improve medical and mental healthcare for jail inmates, according to a letter posted on the county’s website Tuesday.
McDonnell said his department will need to ramp up hiring to deal with the increased demand for medical appointments as the county’s health agency moves toward a patient-centered model that is proactive and preventative.
Correctional Health Services, the agency within the Department of Health Services that took over responsibility for jail healthcare in 2015, is working aggressively to hire more personnel. That means the sheriff’s department will need many more deputies to move inmates to and from appointments securely, the sheriff said.
He said it also made sense to hire dedicated medical transport teams for off-site emergency medical runs. Last year, CHS made nearly 6,000 such trips, which typically require two deputies to be pulled off regular duty.
The sheriff’s custody division oversees more than 17,000 inmates in seven county jail facilities.
“It is vital to improve the level of medical and mental health care for the inmates in county jails,” McDonnell wrote in The letter, signed on his behalf by Assistant Sheriff Jill Serrano.
McDonnell cited the California prison system as a cautionary tale, noting that in 2006, a federal judge found that the state failed to provide a constitutional level of care to prisoners and appointed a receiver to manage the system.
“The (California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation) budget for prisoner medical care has grown exponentially to meet the receiver’s court-ordered demands,” McDonnell’s letter stated.
Many inmates are very ill when they are booked into the county system and need to be assessed quickly to ensure proper care. More than 20 percent suffer from mental illness.
Evaluations are made at the front of an inmate’s cell because there are not enough deputies to escort inmates to a clinical setting, according to McDonnell, who added that CHS is hoping to discontinue that practice.
The letter was sent as an update on the status of a reorganization of personnel under a new Access to Care Bureau. The department is reviewing the numbers and plans to formally request the new positions as part of the 2018-19 budget process and as current vacant positions are filled.
The board asked for an update on the overall financial status of the sheriff’s department last June. A report from the CEO and Auditor-Controller has been postponed three times this year and is now set for April 3.