Los Angeles County and the American Civil Liberties Union have reached an agreement to settle a lawsuit alleging “barbaric” conditions at county jails, officials said Friday.
As part of the proposed settlement — which still requires court approval — the county agreed to limit how long inmates can be held at the Downtown Los Angeles Inmate Reception Center, as well as how long during which detainees may be handcuffed or tied to chairs and benches. .
The county also pledged to depopulate the prison by diverting some people to non-prison beds.
In a statement, county officials said the agreement “recognizes improved conditions at the inmate reception center resulting from corrective actions taken by the county in recent months to improve wait times, overcrowding and unsanitary conditions”.
Corene Kendrick, deputy director of the ACLU’s National Prison Project, called the settlement “extraordinary” and “groundbreaking.”
“The county is putting its money where its mouth is trying to depopulate the jail,” Kendrick said in an interview Friday.
“It’s incredibly rare,” she added.
Normally, prison or court reforms will end with the hiring of additional mental health staff, which LA County has also agreed to, serving better food or letting inmates out of their cells more often. , Kendrick said.
“It actually addresses some of the root causes of why prisons in Los Angeles have become the dumping ground for the failing mental health and other systems that are failing so many people in the county,” Kendrick said.
The agreement, the latest step in a class action lawsuit originally filed in the 1970s, comes months after the ACLU filed a petition in September raising concerns about poor conditions at the inmate reception center – where recently arrested detainees, many of whom had not yet been arrested, allegedly defecated on the floor and in food containers, were handcuffed for dozens of hours and were denied medication for mental illnesses.
In response, a federal judge signed a temporary restraining order to remedy conditions at the inmate reception center.
The ACLU filed in February for Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna and the Board of Supervisors to be held in contempt, alleging the county failed to comply with the requirements of the restraining order. They accused the county of flouting court orders by chaining inmates to benches and stretchers for hours at a time, locking people in cells covered in trash and feces and letting them sleep on crowded floors of visitor centers with nothing but plastic bags for warmth.
Under the agreement announced Friday, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, which operates the county’s jails, does not have the right to hold an inmate in the reception center for more than 24 hours or handcuff or tying an inmate to an object for more than four hours.
To reduce the prison population, the county will also agree to create more than 500 non-prison beds for those deemed unfit to stand trial, as well as nearly 1,700 for those with mental illness.
Along the way, the county will have to provide quarterly reports to the court detailing progress toward compliance.
In a statement Friday, the county highlighted the progress officials have already made, saying they have announced bonuses for prison healthcare workers, added a compliance sergeant position in the inmate reception center and trained staff to legal requirements and waiting times.
Times editor Keri Blakinger contributed to this report.