Santa Ana Considers Using Jail for Mental Health Services

SANTA ANA, Calif. — The city of Santa Ana is currently determining what to do next with its jail space after the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) gave notice on Feb. 23 that it was terminating its contract at the jail. Now that the federal immigration detainees once held there have been moved, there are at least 350 empty cells left in their wake.

The 512-bed, Type 2 jail opened in 1997 and has predominantly been used to detain people pending arraignment, during trial and upon a sentence of commitment. The facility, however, no longer houses a vast majority of people arrested by city police because county jails now hold them at no expense to the city, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Per the original building contract, the city still owes an annual amount of $3 million through 2024. The ICE contract was the city’s largest, paying about $340,000 a month to house detainees, reported The Orange County Register, and without it, the city now has to find other ways to make the payments.

On April 4, the city council approved that the local offices of Vanir Construction Management Inc. conduct a study to help come up with options on how best to use the facility — whether its continuing to use it as a holding facility or not doing jail business at all, according to The Orange County Register.

Mayor Pro Tem Michele Martinez said that using the facility as a Type 1 jail that houses detainees for no more than 96 hours after booking would be financially sustainable for the city, according to The Orange County Register.

Martinez also said that another alternative could be using the space to provide mental health services. The Los Angeles Times reported that the number of mental health treatment beds in the county has dropped from 1,217 in 1995 to 481 today even though the county has a population of 3.1 million. A lot of that can be attributed to public and private insurance companies cutting coverage of psychiatric hospitals. At a recent city council meeting, Martinez even added that Cook County, Ill., already implemented a great model for creating a mental health centers.

Some members of the public have expressed concern about the decision to use Vanir Construction Management Inc. to conduct the study, as the company has show bias toward reusing the site as a detention center. The company has four months to produce the study for which the city council will base their decision on changes to the jail. Any change would require votes from four council members.