After jail deaths, supervisors ask LASD to give more warm clothes to inmates

A bus passes an imposing building.
Los Angeles jails are facing criticism after two people who showed signs of hypothermia died last winter.
(Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times)
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Weeks after a watchdog report raised concerns about two inmate deaths last winter linked to suspected hypothermia, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a motion Tuesday asking jail officials to give out warmer clothes to people in custody who are cold.

The county’s seven jails have long struggled to maintain consistent indoor temperatures during freezes and heat waves. Monitors with the county Office of Inspector General found that last winter some areas of the facilities dropped to as low as 58 degrees. Some detainees took to using plastic garbage bags as blankets, sometimes even sleeping inside them to shield themselves from the cold.

But, as The Times reported last month, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department officials remained reluctant to hand out thermal undergarments, despite having hundreds of thousands on hand. Giving out extra clothes, they said, would be too costly and could provide opportunities for inmates to hide contraband.


In Tuesday’s motion, the Board of Supervisors called the refusal to give out warm clothing a “reprehensible practice.” Supervisor Hilda Solis spearheaded the effort to rectify it with the motion.

The jails were so ill-equipped for cold weather last winter that inmates sometimes slept inside plastic trash bags for warmth, a watchdog’s report says.

June 15, 2023

“While people in custody are in the care of LASD,” the motion said, “it is incumbent that they are treated humanely and that includes ensuring that they have access and are provided clothing appropriate to temperature and that facilities maintain appropriate temperatures.”

The motion asks the department to provide warmer clothes to anyone who requests them, to start logging when those clothes are given out and to create a consistent policy about it. The motion also directs the county’s chief executive to identify funding to buy more thermal undergarments as part of the supplemental budget this fall.

According to the 38-page Office of Inspector General report, the jails typically issue each inmate a short-sleeved shirt and pants, one short-sleeved undershirt and one blanket. Some detainees — such as those with certain medical needs or inmate worker status — receive warmer clothes in the cold.

When the Office of Inspector General previously inquired about the possibility of distributing thermal undergarments, the Sheriff’s Department said it had already given out about 1,000 thermal tops and 900 thermal bottoms across an inmate population of more than 13,000. Jail officials told the office that roughly $3.1 million would be needed to get warmer clothes for everyone.

In early April, the Sheriff’s Department told oversight officials that 315,000 thermal tops and bottoms were in inventory, but that state regulations do not require them to be handed out.


At Tuesday’s meeting, sheriff’s officials said warmer clothes are sometimes issued even when not medically required, but reiterated that the state’s Title 15 jail standards do not require them to do that.

“My understanding is that Title 15 is the floor, meaning that’s the minimum standard,” Solis responded. “We have to do better.”

Cmdr. Hugo Macias said that the department is willing to give out more warm clothes in the future, but that it will require more money.

L.A. County supervisors approved a $43-billion budget on Monday at a meeting punctuated by moments of silence for two young people who died in recent months in county custody.

June 26, 2023

“We do have a surplus of garments,” Macias said, “and we are also undergoing an exploratory expense just to get an assessment of what it would take.”

This year, supervisors allocated $4 billion — or roughly 10% of the county’s budget — to the Sheriff’s Department.

Several community members spoke in support of the motion, including one man who directed a stream of obscenities at the sheriff. Others spoke about their jail experiences and how low the indoor temperatures were when they spent time in the county’s lockups.


Hans Johnson, a member of the Civilian Oversight Commission, which oversees the Sheriff’s Department, thanked the supervisors for tackling the issue. He said some people are “only given an aluminum foil sheet upon entry into our jails,” and he called the motion “long overdue.”

“This will save lives,” he said, “and protect the dignity of people being incarcerated.”