LA County Violates Court Order and Perpetuates Horrific Jail Conditions

ACLU Calls for the Board of Supervisors and Sheriff to be Held in Contempt

February 28, 2023 12:00 pm

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LOS ANGELES — Despite a federal court order in September to fix the squalid, inhumane conditions at Los Angeles County Jail’s Inmate Reception Center (IRC) — especially for people with mental illness — the county remains “massively out of compliance” with the judge’s order and other court actions going back decades.

The American Civil Liberties Union National Prison Project and ACLU Foundation of Southern California have filed a motion calling on the judge to impose sanctions on the County Board of Supervisors and sheriff, and find them in contempt.

“Contempt of court is the strongest sanction available to a judge, and rare because it is used only after all other efforts to enforce compliance have failed,” said Corene Kendrick, deputy director of the ACLU National Prison Project. “Make no mistake: LA County has failed to comply with past orders about the jails, and the ACLU’s request for contempt is how the federal court can bring the county into line and protect the people locked in its jails.”

The filing, in the long-standing case now called Rutherford v. Luna, was in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California in Los Angeles on Feb. 27.

“After almost five decades of an endless cycle of promises followed by excuses and failures and generations of class members enduring abysmal conditions,” the filing says, “the time for talk is over.”

The filing details numerous first-hand witness accounts and other reports concerning the IRC where, according to the September court order, people were neither supposed to be held for more than 24 hours, nor were they to be handcuffed or chained to an object for more than four hours. The order also required the IRC to be kept in a “clean and sanitary condition” with access to functioning toilets, drinking water, clean water for washing, a mattress if kept overnight, and mental health care including required medications.

All of these requirements were drastically violated, the filing says, to the point of people continuing to “suffer serious deprivations while in appalling conditions.”

The filing also says that proven programs to divert people with mental illness out of jails and into community treatment could drastically reduce IRC overcrowding if widely adopted. But despite the successes, the county has largely failed to fund the programs.

“For years, the county and Board of Supervisors have known about these inhumane conditions and that the only solution was to expand effective programs to move people with mental illness out of the jails into community treatment,” said Peter Eliasberg, chief counsel at the ACLU SoCal. “But they have failed to do what was necessary to solve the problem, and scores of vulnerable people are suffering every day because of their inaction.”

A contempt hearing in the case is scheduled for April 19.

Read the court filing here:

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