Support for LAist comes from
We Explain L.A.
Stay Connected

Share This

Criminal Justice

LA County Jail Accused Of Being ‘Far From Compliance’ On Provisions To Protect People With Mental Illness

The Jail complex in downtown Los Angeles is seen through a chain link fence. The blue one-story building has LA County Sheriff Central Jail painted on it in yellow letters
The Jail complex in downtown Los Angeles
(Robert Garrova / LAist)
Today on Giving Tuesday, we need you.
Dear reader, we're asking you to help us keep local news available for all today on Giving Tuesday. Your financial support keeps our stories free to read, instead of hidden behind paywalls AND will be matched dollar-for-dollar! Let your support for reliable local reporting be amplified by this special matching opportunity. Thank you for investing in your neighborhood.

A court-appointed monitor who keeps watch over conditions for incarcerated people living with a mental illness says L.A. County is seriously behind on several requirements laid out by a federal judge.

In 2015, years after it was cited for mistreating people in jail with a mental illness, L.A. County entered into a settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice. For one, the agreement required at least 10 hours of out-of-cell time for some of the jail’s mental health population.

The monitor’s report says less than 15% of the jail's sickest, those in so-called High Observation Housing (HOH), were offered that required out-of-cell time during the first quarter of 2022.

Peter Eliasberg, chief counsel at the ACLU of Southern California, wrote a letter to county supervisors calling the county “grossly” out of compliance with the provision.

Support for LAist comes from

“The people who are in jail, who are in High Observation Housing, they are people with serious mental illness,” Eliasberg said. “They desperately need therapeutic treatment and they’re not getting it.”

One of the provisions also requires the county to provide group treatment for people living in the jail’s mental health housing.

But according to court monitor Nicholas E. Mitchell’s latest report: “The County remains unable to provide meaningful group programming to many inmates who require it, and is far from compliance with both provisions, largely because it has not hired (or contracted with) enough clinical staff to provide the required programming.”

Diane Rabinowitz, whose son Tariq Carlson was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and spent years cycling in and out of L.A. County jail, said the kind of treatment people living with a mental illness are getting in jail is “completely mismatched for their lives.”

“It lacks all the ingredients that could possibly make being in jail anywhere remotely therapeutic,” Rabinowitz told LAist. “If you have to have people in jail because we don’t have hospital beds, we don’t have adequate supportive housing, we don’t have [an] adequate system of care, then at least while you have them in there do your best to provide what needs to be provided,” she added.

The overall mental health population stands at about 40% of the roughly 15,000 people currently incarcerated in L.A. County jails.

The federal agreement also requires the county to provide a sufficient amount of inpatient mental health beds. As the incarcerated mental health population within the jails has “ballooned,” the monitor says the county remains far from full compliance with this provision, too.

“You can’t fix these jails problems as long as you’ve got as many people with mental illness in the jails that you have,” said the ACLU’s Eliasberg.

In a statement, L.A. County Counsel said it could not comment on ongoing legal matters, but added: “we want to underscore that Los Angeles County is working to implement corrective practices that can help us alleviate the conditions in the Inmate Reception Center and the jail as swiftly as possible.”

Support for LAist comes from

“The County is working on addressing issues identified by the ACLU as well as undoing a system built upon generations of racial inequality and marginalization of the poor,” the emailed statement reads.

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.