Judge Orders County to End Inhumane Overcrowding in Los Angeles County Jails

October 27, 2006 12:00 am

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LOS ANGELES — In response to the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California’s concerns about severe overcrowding in the Los Angeles County jail system, a federal judge today ordered that the county immediately end its unconstitutional practices in the jail’s central processing hub.

In a 10-page ruling, U.S. District Judge Dean D. Pregerson issued a temporary restraining order prohibiting the county from holding more than 20 inmates for more than 24 hours in small holding cells in its Inmate Reception Center, located at Men’s Central Jail in Downtown Los Angeles.

In his ruling, Pregerson said that “inmates, particularly pre-trial detainees who are imbued with presumption of innocence, deserve better than to be housed in a system which has defaulted to the lowest permissible standard of care.”

“This order means that the nightmarish conditions in our jails cannot be maintained,” said Mark Rosenbaum, ACLU of Southern California Legal Director. “Inmates should not be stripped of the bare requisites of dignity and decency.”

Judge Pregerson’s decision comes nine days after the ACLU of Southern California filed a motion requesting a temporary restraining order in its ongoing lawsuit challenging conditions in the county jail system. The order ensures constitutional conditions in the IRC, the central processing hub for the seven-facility county jail system.

According to eyewitness accounts and more than two dozen statements, hundreds of men arraigned but not convicted of any offense have been quartered at the Inmate Reception Center for two, three, or four days at a time in almost “unspeakable conditions.”

“Thirty to forty men are being crammed into holding cells so small that they must take turns lying down on the hard filthy floor,” according to the legal papers. “Without regular meals and with no access to showers, beds or mattresses, these detainees suffer hunger, illness, extreme fatigue and conditions that fall far short of basic constitutional standards for detention and incarceration.”

In May, Judge Pregerson toured Men’s Central Jail and called the conditions there “inconsistent with basic human values.” The judge then ordered representatives of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department and the Board of Supervisors to meet with the ACLU of Southern California to develop a comprehensive plan to improve conditions at the jail.

“We’re very pleased. This sends a strong message to the sheriff and the county that they cannot move the problem of overcrowding around and must instead look at system-wide fixes,” said ACLU of Southern California staff attorney Melinda Bird.

The decision is available at: www.aclu-sc.org/attach/i/ircruling.pdf

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