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Federal judge imposes limits on LA County jail after ACLU sues over ‘barbaric’ conditions

The L.A. County Sheriff’s Department is barred from holding a person in the jail system’s inmate reception center for more than 24 hours



By Gregory Yee
Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES — A federal judge has signed a temporary restraining order addressing Los Angeles County jail conditions that a civil rights group called “barbaric.”

The order signed Friday by U.S. District Judge Dean Pregerson bars the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department from holding a person in the overcrowded jail system’s inmate reception center for more than 24 hours.

Deputies at the center’s clinic will be barred from handcuffing, chaining or tethering a person to a chair “or any other object” for more than four hours and from keeping more people in holding cells than allowed by state regulations “without first exhausting every other means.”

People cannot be kept in a holding cell for more than 12 hours or in a locked cage for more than eight hours, according to the court documents.

Friday’s order comes after the American Civil Liberties Union alleged that a growing number of mentally ill inmates were chained to chairs for days or left to sleep on a concrete floor without bedding.

Most were people who had been recently arrested and not convicted and were routinely denied clean water, functioning toilets, showers, adequate food or medication to treat schizophrenia and other serious conditions, the civil rights group alleged.

The ACLU had asked Pregerson for an emergency order to force Sheriff Alex Villanueva and the Board of Supervisors to clean up the “medieval” conditions of the inmate reception center in downtown L.A.

Friday’s order prohibits holding people in the clinic area, cage or any cell when the area is not clean and sanitary; lacks access to functioning toilets, potable water and clean washing water; and lacks enough garbage receptacles.

It also requires that people held at the jail be provided “ongoing access to adequate medical and mental health care, including but not limited to regular pill call,” according to court documents.

All areas in the inmate reception center, with the exception of an overflow module in downtown L.A.’s Twin Towers Correctional Facility, are subject to the order.

The order lays out documenting procedures should any of the requirements not be met.

The ACLU’s request for emergency intervention revived a 1975 class-action suit that led to orders that Los Angeles County end dangerous and inhumane practices that violate inmates’ rights.

About 120,000 inmates cycle through the jail system’s processing hub each year, according to the Sheriff’s Department. The portion of inmates with mental illness has grown substantially in recent years. Two men have died at the reception center since April, according to the ACLU.

“This barbaric practice violates all basic norms of human decency and the constitution,” ACLU attorneys wrote in a prior court filing.