The State Worker

Chronicling civil-service life for California state workers

July 12, 2011
Millions spent on contractors for 'unnecessary' mental health screenings

A lack of coordination between the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and the Department of Mental Health resulted in the state paying tens of millions of dollars to contractors for "unnecessary work," according to a state audit released today.

The state created the Sex Offender Commitment Program in 1996 to ensure proper care for the small population of sex offenders predisposed to violent behavior because of mental disorders. Corrections officials refer offenders to the mental health department for evaluation, which then recommends to the courts whether or not someone needs to be part of the program.

After Jessica's Law (Proposition 83 in 2006) expanded the pool of potential violent sex offenders nearly five-fold, the Corrections department failed to follow state law and basically referred everyone to the mental health department for evaluation.

During the past four years, less than one percent of the 30,000 sex offenders referred to the Mental Health department by corrections officials were tagged as needing commitment.

Thousands of the people sent over were repeated offenders, whom the mental health department had already said did not pose a high risk to public safety because of a mental disorder.

The mental health department struggled in hiring qualified evaluators willing to work for low pay or training existing employees to handle screenings, which meant about $3,300 was spent per evaluation to hire a contractor to do it. About five dozen contractors were needed each year.

Between fiscal years 2005-06 and 2009-10, the hiring of contractors for the increased load of evaluations cost $49 million, according to a report cited in the audit. The contractors' tab ran $124 per hour, according to a March 2010 analysis done by the department, compared to $72 per hour--including benefits--for state psychologists.

"We agree that improvements can be made in streamlining the process and have already implemented steps to improve the timeliness of our referrals to DMH," wrote Scott Kernan, the Corrections department's undersecretary for operations, in a letter to state auditor Elaine Howle. "We look forward to carefully reviewing the recommendations in this report and will continue our work with DMH to increase efficiency."

The state law that allows the mental health department to contract for various evaluations expires Jan. 1, 2012. The State Personnel Board will consider next month a request from the department to open a new employee classification. The department's plan would be to hire 10 new psychologists next year and then add 10 more each year until it no longer needs contractors. The board has previously favored dropping the use the of contractors by the department.

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About The State Worker

Jon Ortiz The Author

Jon Ortiz launched The State Worker blog and a companion column in 2008 to cover state government from the perspective of California government employees. Every day he filters the news through a single question: "What does this mean for state workers?" Join Ortiz for updates and debate on state pay, benefits, pensions, contracts and jobs. Contact him at (916) 321-1043 and at


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