The County Board of Supervisors has approved a new contract with Prison Health Services Incorporated, a private company that's been providing medical treatment for inmates at the jail since 1995.
PHS will now take over mental health services at the jail from the county's department of Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Services.
"This new move will allow us to enhance the level of mental health services that are provided in the jail", [Sheriff Bill] Brown says, "and at the same time we're actually going to save some funding."
PHS will bring in additional staff, train deputies at the jail and, for the first time, establish a social worker to act as a discharge planner to oversee the release of inmates with mental health issues from jail, the goal being to increase their chance of succeeding in life on the outside.
"That they have the right type of medication, that they have the right type of therapy and treatment that they have a place to live", Brown says, "if their mental illness is not properly maintained they are going to re-offend."
The move to privatize mental health services at the jail is expected to save cash-strapped Santa Barbara County hundreds of thousands of dollars if its own Department of Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health were to provide the same level of service as PHS.
And this strong statement of support for privatization from the top county law enforcement official should not go unnoticed (emphasis mine):
And while the county employee union laments the loss of county jobs at the jail, Sheriff Brown says privatization could be a solution for local, county and state government struggling to cope with shrinking budgets.
"I think they are going to have to consolidate services work in conjunction with other organizations to deliver those services", Brown says, "and there's a lot of room for public and private partnerships to be able to do that."