Conditions at the LA County Jail system have been the subject of court oversight since 1978.
During summer of 2022 visits to the Los Angeles Jail system’s booking facility known as the Inmate Reception Center (IRC), attorneys with the ACLU recorded abhorrent conditions, including:
- people with serious mental illness chained to chairs for days at a time, where they sleep sitting upright,
dozens of people crammed together, sleeping head-to-foot on the hard concrete floor,
people defecating in trash cans and urinating on the floor or in empty food containers in shared spaces,
unhygienic conditions, including floors littered with trash, overflowing sinks and toilets, no access to showers or clean clothes for days, and lack of adequate access to drinking water and food,
failure to provide adequate health care, including failure to provide people with serious mental illness or chronic medical conditions their medications, or to provide care to people dangerously detoxing from drugs and alcohol.
In response, the ACLU National Prison Project and the ACLU of Southern California filed an emergency motion on Sept. 8, 2022, asking a federal judge to order the County to limit custody at the IRC to 24 hours at most and to improve conditions so they meet minimum legal standards.
People who are arrested in Los Angeles County are taken to the IRC, where they are meant to get booked and moved to another facility within 24 hours. However, because of catastrophic overcrowding in the Los Angeles County Jail system — the largest jail system in the nation — people end up detained in abysmal conditions at the IRC for days at a time, violating decades of court orders.
The filing argues that the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has failed to properly fund alternatives to incarceration, despite committing to a “Care First, Jails Last” approach for people with mental illness. The filing argues that this failure to adequately fund alternatives has contributed to overcrowding.
On Sept. 16, 2022, U.S. District Judge Dean D. Pregerson issued a Temporary Restraining Order directing LA County and Sheriff Villanueva to immediately fix the massive backup in the jail’s IRC after county lawyers conceded to revelations of horrific treatment of people confined there. The order prohibits the county from keeping people in the IRC beyond 24 hours and from chaining anyone to a chair in the IRC Clinic “front bench” for more than four hours. The county must also keep the IRC clean, provide functional toilets, drinking water, food, and adequate medical and mental health care, including medications for psychiatric and chronic medical conditions