The cost of commitment



The annual cost of housing an alleged criminal at Atascadero State Hospital increased sharply to nearly $167,000 this year and officials say the county could be left paying similar costs for the long term.


As part of an agreement with the state, SLO County Behavioral Health Services paid $166,947 to house one patient—who officials have not named—at ASH over the last fiscal year. That’s $457.39 per day. The year before the same bed would have cost $378.18 per day.


“The need for the agreement is strictly state bureaucracy,” Jeff Hamm, Health Agency director, said.


County funds are used to house such patients even though they’re in a state facility. It’s part of a contract all counties have with state hospitals such as ASH. People deemed criminally insane and unfit to stand trial are sent to state hospitals and treated, ideally to a level where they are able to stand trial. Hamm said, in this individual’s case, that is considered unlikely.


If the patient is local then the county takes care of the bill during their pre-trial stay. Over the past five years, $977,521 of county funds were used to house people who were incompetent to stand trial.


It’s nothing unique to SLO County, explained ASH spokesman Craig Dacus. However, Dacus couldn’t explain the sharp increase in cost. Beds at ASH are generally expensive, he added, because “we treat a very highly unpredictable population.”

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