Out of Control Policy Blog

Santa Barbara County Jail to Privatize Mental Health Services

As the Daily Sound reports today, Santa Barbara County's Board of Supervisors has voted to privatize the delivery of mental health services at its county jail:

Enticed by beefed up mental health services at the Santa Barbara County jail for a bargain price, the Board of Supervisors yesterday opted to privatize the mental health unit at the jail, entering into a two-year contract with Prison Health Services Inc.

The new contract effectively ends any presence at the jail of the county’s department of Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Services (ADMHS), which has provided mental health care at the facility for decades.

On paper, the new contract appears to be a win-win. For $14,000 less than the current ADMHS contract, Prison Health Services will provide mental health care above and beyond what is currently available.

Sheriff Bill Brown said the two largest benefits of the new contract include Prison Health’s ability to provide 24/7 mental health care, and discharge planning, two facets of care currently lacking at the jail. If ADMHS provided this level of care, he said it would cost an additional $500,000, on top of the current contract of roughly $500,000. The sharp increase would be required to hire additional county employees to administer the care, he said.

"If we had tried to emulate that [care] with existing ADMHS providing the service, it would have cost us about a half-million more than that,” Brown said. “The bottom line is we end up getting broader coverage for less money."

Just as with other types of services, well-structured privatization offers policymakers a valuable tool to provide higher quality mental health services for less money, as Reason has written recently here, here, and here.

» Reason's Privatization Research and Commentary

Leonard Gilroy is Director of Government Reform


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