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Criminal Justice

For the First Time Since 2020, People In LA County Jails Can Get Married Again

A bald man with a light brown jacket stands next to a woman with a dark brown velour jacket. They stand in front of a glass window as they fill out paperwork. Behind the glass window a woman with a white turtle neck, scarf, and curly brown looks down at her desk.
Jean-Claude Bensoussan (left), a jail wedding minister, and a client pick up a marriage license at the Ventura County Clerk-Recorder office.
(Samanta Helou Hernandez
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The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department resumed weddings last week after I asked why its COVID-19 policy banning civil ceremonies was still in place.

The Backstory

The sheriff's department suspended weddings in custody in March 2020 when the pandemic first hit and L.A. County declared a COVID-19 state of emergency.

That was still the policy until last week — even though the department had rolled back other pandemic jail policies, like its prohibition on family visitation and its mask requirement.

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Wedding officiant Jean-Claude Bensoussan said before the ban he used to perform at least 20 marriage ceremonies in L.A. County jails each month.

After the policy change, Bensoussan stayed busy performing jail wedding ceremonies in neighboring counties that allowed them, like Ventura and Orange.

When I asked the Sheriff’s Department’s about its policy last week, it sent a statement saying that “effectively immediately” it was reinstating jail weddings — while also saying it had been working to resume them.

What's Next

A spokesperson for the L.A. County Registrar-Recorder confirmed on Tuesday that it received the updated policy from the Sheriff’s Department last week and is once again issuing marriage licenses to incarcerated people.

The department said it’s giving priority “to those who have been waiting since 2020.”

However, Bensoussan said there's a good chance many of those requests made back in 2020 were by people now transferred to a state prison.

In-person weddings are offered in some prison facilities operated by California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

What questions do you have about criminal justice in Southern California? 
Emily Elena Dugdale covers smaller police departments around Southern California, school safety officers, jails and prisons, and juvenile justice issues. She also covers the LAPD and the L.A. Sheriff’s Department.