Support for LAist comes from
Made of L.A.
Stay Connected

Share This

Criminal Justice

ACLU Pushes Federal Court To Hold LA County In Contempt For Jail Conditions

A sign in front of the Twin Towers Correctional Facility downtown reads: "Twin Towers Correctional Facility; Inmate reception Center; Medical Services" 

There is a hazy sky in the background.
L.A.'s Twin Towers Correctional Facility.
(Robert Garrova/LAist)
Support your source for local news!
The local news you read here every day is crafted for you, but right now, we need your help to keep it going. In these uncertain times, your support is even more important. Today, put a dollar value on the trustworthy reporting you rely on all year long. We can't hold those in power accountable and uplift voices from the community without your partnership. Thank you.

Attorneys with the ACLU went before a federal judge Wednesday to ask him to hold Los Angeles County in contempt for allegedly failing to improve what the ACLU called “abysmal” conditions at the Inmate Reception Center (IRC).

But Judge Dean Pregerson said he would hold off on any finding of contempt until another hearing can be held with witnesses in about 60 days.

The ACLU alleged in an emergency motion filed last fall that its attorneys, who recently visited the facility, saw “abhorrent” conditions at the IRC, including: “[p]eople with serious mental illness chained to chairs for days at a time, where they sleep sitting up ... People defecating in trash cans and urinating on the floor or in empty food containers in shared spaces,” and several other disturbing observations.

In response, Pregerson issued a preliminary injunction that barred the county from holding anyone in the IRC for more than 24 hours and handcuffing, changing or tethering anyone to a fixed object for more than four hours.

Support for LAist comes from

In an April 4 motion, the ACLU alleged the county has failed to comply with several of Pregerson’s orders.

The motion alleges that between March 1-15, more than 100 people were chained in the IRC’s front bench area for over four hours while awaiting a mental health evaluation. The filing also points to county-provided records that showed “1,364 people in IRC over 24 hours from September 2022 to February 2023.”

“More than four decades of monitoring and litigation has resulted in an endless nightmare game of Whack-A-Mole: conditions in LA County Jails’ Inmate Reception Center (IRC) marginally improve; then stuff hits the fan; everything falls apart; and it’s a disaster in the IRC,” ACLU attorneys wrote in the filing supporting contempt of court.

Shortly after Wednesday's hearing, Melissa Camacho, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU of Southern California, told LAist that the situation at the IRC remains urgent.

“The county has still not done anything to fix the root cause of the problems in the IRC," she said. "And that root cause is general overcrowding in the jail system and the lack of specialty housing for people who are mentally ill."

In a statement emailed to LAist by a spokesperson, L.A. County said it “agrees that any overcrowding and unsanitary conditions at the Inmate Reception Center must be remedied and is fully committed to compliance with the requirements of the ... preliminary injunction.”

The county said it’s taking several immediate steps, including but not limited to:

  • Onboarding 63 newly hired Correctional Health Services staff since February, with an additional 20 new CHS staff scheduled to start by May 8.
  • Announcing hiring and retention bonuses of up to 20% to fill additional critical CHS vacancies.
  • Staffing a full complement of psychiatric staff in the IRC to assess individuals for medication and treatment before they transfer to permanent housing.

Camacho said she believes that increased staffing will help, but added that the county cannot “staff their way out of an overcrowding problem.”
The ACLU and jail reform advocates have for years pushed the county to add thousands of mental health treatment beds, which could divert people from jail or prevent them from becoming incarcerated altogether.

The L.A. County Sheriff’s Department said it is aware of the ACLU's latest court filing. “We agree that conditions in the jail system must improve, particularly in addressing the complex needs of individuals with mental health issues," the department said in an emailed statement. "We are committed to working diligently to become compliant with all court orders and meet the expectations of the court and the community we serve."

Support for LAist comes from

‘A recipe for something bad to happen’ 

The persisting problems at the IRC come at a time when county-appointed jail monitor Mark-Anthony Clayton-Johnson called conditions at the jail complex downtown a human rights crisis and “a recipe for something bad to happen ... a recipe for hopelessness.”

LAist’s review of coroners' records found 2021 marked the highest number of deaths by suicide inside the downtown jail complex in eight years.

The rise in suicide deaths comes at a time when the L.A. County Jail system is plagued by a number of issues: Facilities are overcrowded, jail officials are struggling to maintain a mental health workforce, and the jails are out of compliance with requirements mandated by federal court.

If You Need Immediate Help

What the ACLU is pushing for 

The ACLU wants the court to introduce sanctions on L.A. County for non-compliance with mandated jail condition improvements.

The civil liberties group asked the court to fine the county $250 to $10,000, depending on the violation.

In the latest filing, the ACLU said it’s time for L.A. County to “address the root cause of abysmal conditions: their failure to develop community-based alternatives to incarceration to end overcrowding.”

What questions do you have about mental health in SoCal?
One of my goals on the mental health beat is to make the seemingly intractable mental health care system more navigable.

Most Read