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ACLU pushes for court order over ‘abysmal’ conditions in LA County Jail

Inmates at Los Angeles County Jail — many with mental health issues— are sleeping next to urine-soaked floors and are forced to defecate in trash cans, according to shocking claims in a new lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union. 

The group filed the request for an emergency order with US District Judge Dean D. Pregerson on Thursday to push Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva and the LA County Board of Supervisors to immediately address the “abysmal” conditions at the county jail’s inmate reception center. 

The suit also contains various pictures that show male inmates sleeping in a fetal position on the concrete floor without blankets and next to mounds of trash. Toilet bowls that are full and can’t be flushed are covered by a T-shirt, while inmates try to sleep nearby on filthy metal benches or seats.

“The L.A. County Jail system is a national disgrace,” said Corene Kendrick, deputy director of the ACLU National Prison Project. “For almost 50 years, the jail has been under court oversight to provide the most basic minimum standards of sanitation, health care, and human decency to people detained there. Enough is enough.” 

ACLU attorneys also claim inmates with serious mental health issues who need medical attention are often chained to chairs for days and are forced to sleep while sitting up. 

One person sleeps underneath the interview booth.
US District Court

The LA County Jail houses more than 14,600 inmates and the jail’s inmate reception center is where recently arrested individuals are processed and held while they wait for a more permanent placement at the largest jail facility in the country. 

Under the emergency request, the ACLU is asking the court to order the county to limit the intake process to 24 hours at the most. 

LA County Sheriff’s Officials declined to comment because of the pending litigation.

In a statement to The Post, officials with the LA County’s Chief Executive Office said the Board of Supervisors are working to address the crisis in the jail with the “Care First, Jail Last” initiative that’s focused on closing the Men’s Central Jail and investing $288 million to “alternatives” to incarceration. 

The alternative program includes building community partnerships with community-based organizations to reduce incarceration in LA County with youth programs, provide mental health programs and create jobs for incarcerated individuals. 

Inmates sleep on the ground alongside garbage within the Lo Angeles prison.
Inmates sleep on the ground alongside garbage within the Los Angeles County Jail.
US District Court

“The Board of Supervisors has made it clear that we must close Men’s Central Jail and we are working to do so as quickly as possible, while at the same time building a system of alternatives to incarceration and community-based care,” officials with the LA County CEO’s Office told The Post.

“But, while we work toward these two related objectives, we must also address the profound day-to-day challenges of maintaining this antiquated facility at an acceptable level for those who remain inside the jail. We are committed to doing so by implementing necessary improvements as quickly as possible.”

While the Board this week approved $29.8 million to house inmates who struggle with mental health or substance abuse issues and qualify for a diversion program, ACLU officials said that funding would not be enough to immediately address the needs of inmates who are already waiting for days at the jail’s IRC.

“The county supervisors have long touted a ‘Care First, Jails Last’ approach, but have failed to make any meaningful investments in community-based alternatives to incarceration,” said Melissa Camacho-Cheung, ACLU SoCal senior staff attorney. “We know what works for our neighbors and family members who are suffering: community-based programming that provides people with case management, stable housing, medical and mental health care and support.” 

An inmate sleeps next to garbage on the ground in horrifying living conditions.
An inmate sleeps next to garbage on the ground in horrifying living conditions.
US District Court

Supervisor Kathryn Barger said while the Board’s focus has been on diversion programs, more action must be taken to create an alternate plan for those who are still in jail.

“Closing Men’s Central Jail without a replacement plan is a mistake and a policy direction I have consistently opposed,” Barger told The Post. “I believe the conditions at the Inmate Reception Center are a direct result of that policy direction and a void it has created.”  

She added, “My position has been and continues to be that we must invest in a long term and permanent solution to replace Men’s Central Jail. Our incarceration model is antiquated and needs to be replaced with a state-of-the-art facility staffed with quality professionals who can provide vital substance abuse and mental health treatment. This is the direction that will lead us to a more humane environment for those in our justice system who cannot be diverted.”  

According to the ACLU suit, inmates have died as they wait in the county jail’s inmate reception center.  A man died in April after he was found unresponsive, while a 72-year old man who was held at the IRC received no medical attention and collapsed and died after two days.

IRC clinic from the side.
Crowded conditions within the Los Angeles County Jail’s IRC.
US District Court

Celia Banos, whose son Jhean has been diagnosed with schizophrenia, said her son was held more than four days at the county jail’s Inmate Reception Center.

Jhean Banos had various cuts and bruises on his wrist because he was cuffed for more than 99 hours.

“My son’s mental health is not a crime,” Celia Banos said. “Instead of providing him with the treatment he needs from health professionals, the county resorts to locking him up without care and without his medication.”

According to the ACLU suit, inmates spend anywhere from 49 hours to 200 hours waiting to be moved or treated.

“Late-summer numbers show a long-standing problem that has spiraled out of control,” ACLU attorneys said.

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