Case demonstrates county’s systemic failure to address mental illness

LOS ANGELES — On Friday, a federal court judge ordered Los Angeles County to fix the massive backup in the jail’s Inmate Reception Center (IRC) after county lawyers conceded to revelations of horrific treatment of people confined at the jail’s booking facility.    

U.S. District Judge Dean D. Pregerson’s 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.    

During visits to the IRC this summer, attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union and ACLU Foundation of Southern California recorded abhorrent conditions, including people chained to chairs for days, dozens sleeping head-to-foot on concrete, open defecation and no sanitation, and necessary medication withheld. The squalid conditions in the IRC are directly tied to massive overcrowding in the jail. People with mental health needs have been waiting for days in the IRC because there are no more jail beds available.  

The LA County Jail — the largest jail system in the nation and the world — has been the subject of court oversight since 1978, when a federal court ruled in the ACLU SoCal case Rutherford v. Pitchess, finding numerous conditions that violate the constitutional rights of people incarcerated. 

Please attribute the following to Corene Kendrick, deputy director of the ACLU National Prison Project: 

“We appreciate that rather than fight the ACLU in court, LA County is admitting that conditions in the IRC and its treatment of people with mental illness are just as barbaric as we described. But the county’s proposed solution to date, to double down on incarcerating mentally ill people, is a nonstarter. Instead, the county must put its money where its mouth is, and expand effective community programs that are cost-efficient and, more importantly, humane.”   

Please attribute the following to Melissa Camacho-Cheung, senior staff attorney at the ACLU SoCal: 

“While the court’s ruling affirms the dismal conditions suffered by people confined in the IRC, we know incarceration is never the solution to mental illness. After nearly 50 years of failed and harmful approaches, the board of supervisors must take decisive action in making care-first and community-based alternatives to incarceration a reality rather than a slogan.”  

Read the order: https://www.aclu.org/legal-document/rutherford-v-villanueva-temporary-restraining-order-doc-345   

See photos and case filings: https://www.aclu.org/cases/rutherford-v-villanueva  

Read this statement online: https://www.aclu.org/press-releases/court-rules-la-county-must-fix-overcrowding-and-abysmal-conditions-jails-booking 

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