New jail unit in Ventura County takes on issue of inmates with mental health, or medical care issues
64,000 square foot expansion at Todd Road Jail features facilities specifically designed to get specialized care to inmates who need it.
It’s hard to imagine that so many people are excited to be behind bars, in jail.
But, about 200 invited guests are at Ventura County’s Todd Road jail, for the opening of a long-sought expansion intended to safely house, and help people with mental health, and severe health care issues.
Ventura County Sheriff Jim Fryhoff is standing in what amounts to the central control room for the 64 bed, 64,000 square foot health and programming unit.
"One of the things we've been challenged with in all of our correctional facilities in the state is an increase in those people with significant mental health disorders that have committed crimes, and then they're held in our custody," said Fryhoff.
"This facility is designed with those patients in mind, so we can provide the best care for them, and the best environment we can, so we help them recover, and return to a society in a way that hopefully they don't reoffend," said Fryhoff.
For decades, counties have struggled to safely house and treat the large numbers of inmates with serious mental health issues. Money to build new facilities has always been an issue. In 2017, Ventura County received a state grant which paid for 90% of the $61 million project.
It includes six housing units, classrooms, counseling rooms, recreation areas, and other facilities.
Matt Ehret, who’s a Deputy Director of the Ventura County Public Works Agency, says they tried to build something to specifically meet the needs of the healthcare related jail programs.
"We spent a lot of time going to different jails, seeing different facilities, talking with different sheriffs to see what works, and what doesn't, to try to make the perfect building," said Ehret.
Captain Timothy Ragan is with the Todd Road Jail. He says the new facility is designed to provide a dedicated space for inmates with mental health and medical issues separate from the jail’s main population. There’s space for mental health professionals to work with inmates, and classrooms for educational activities.
"I would say 75 to 80% of all inmates have some type of mental health issue, and receive some type of treatment for it while they are here," said Ragan. "It's just a huge, huge issue, and we are doing our best...I don't think the public knows how severe it is."
Ragan says while mental health is the main focus, the unit is also geared to help inmates with other medical issues.
By default, county jails in the Tri-Counties have become the region’s largest mental health care providers. It’s forced agencies to rethink, and redesign jail facilities.
Santa Barbara County’s year-old Northern Branch Jail, in Santa Maria has dedicated facilities for inmates with mental health and medical issues.
It’s hoped Ventura County’s new Todd Road Jail facility will help provide the room, and the support inmates need to turn their lives around, and get a fresh start in society.