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Criminal Justice

LA Sheriff Agrees To More Transparency On Jail Conditions

A Los Angeles Sheriff's Department police cruiser sedan sits in front of a bank of payphones on a sidewalk in front of a fenced-off concrete building labeled as Los Angeles County Sheriff Men's Central Jail.
Men's Central Jail in Los Angeles.
(Valerie Macon
AFP via Getty Images)
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The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department agreed Thursday to provide quarterly online reports about conditions inside the county jails and its efforts to improve them, in response to a request from the Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission.

The problem

The jails are desperately overcrowded — nearly 15,000 incarcerated people reside in a system approved by the state for about 12,500. Over 40% of those people have mental health needs. Last September, the ACLU filed an emergency court filing asking a federal judge to order immediate improvements in the “abysmal” conditions at the Inmate Reception Center (IRC). The group cited a litany of abuses, including the shackling of detainees with serious mental illness to chairs “for days at a time.”

A federal judge issued a temporary restraining order soon after requiring the Sheriff’s Department to improve conditions, but problems persist.

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Inspector General Max Huntsman told the oversight panel on Thursday that inspections have found that incarcerated people are still being tied to objects like gurneys during the intake process at the IRC.

“As long as we have our jails overcrowded, we will see IRC continue to be shut down repeatedly, we will continue to see people's constitutional rights violated, either in the IRC or elsewhere, simply because we lack the capacity to care for the number of people we have in our jails now,” he said.

Responding to the issues raised by Huntsman and the ACLU, Sheriff Robert Luna told the commission, “that is not acceptable,” adding that his department needs to take “immediate corrective action.”

The backstory

LAist has covered numerous angles of the problem — from flooding, broken elevators and buses preventing people from making their court hearings to the plight of jail health care workers who call the jails situation a daily “human rights disaster,” along with efforts to get books into cells to improve literacy rates and reduce recidivism.

What happened Thursday

The oversight commission voted to recommend the Sheriff's Department produce the quarterly online report starting in April, and the department agreed. the report will have to cover a variety of issues, including the department’s efforts to reduce overcrowding and its efforts to release pregnant and postpartum people to diversion or other community-based programs.

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.

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