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Federal judge imposes limits on L.A. County jail after ACLU sues over ‘barbaric’ conditions

Three men in jail jumpsuits lie on a concrete floor to sleep
A photo taken from court documents shows inmates sleeping on the floor at the clinic of the Los Angeles County jail system’s Inmate Reception Center.
(U.S. District Court)

A federal judge on Friday signed a temporary restraining order addressing Los Angeles County jail conditions that a civil rights group called “barbaric.”

The order signed 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.”

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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.

L.A. County jail inmates are left to defecate in garbage cans and sleep chained to chairs or benches, ACLU alleges in demand for an emergency court order

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.

The county remains out of compliance with the settlement’s main requirements: ensuring inmates with serious mental illnesses receive regular treatment, out-of-cell time and safe housing.

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.

L.A. County sheriff’s officials attempted to cover up an incident in which a deputy knelt on the head of an inmate, according to records reviewed by The Times.

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.


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