Why LA’s troubled jails are getting a federal overhaul

6 Aug 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Federal Oversight, Sweeping Reforms Coming To LA County Jails.

After years of scandal, Los Angeles County authorities have agreed to an overhaul of its jail system, which hopes to improve conditions for mentally ill inmates and help end a history of internal abuse. LOS ANGELES—Los Angeles County’s jail system will undergo reforms under federal oversight as part of a settlement with the Justice Department, which had been probing alleged mistreatment of inmates. The settlement, which was presented in United States District Court, will impose court oversight on the nation’s largest jail system for at least a year, and it specifies a series of changes that must be made. The settlement includes reforms aimed at ending a sharp rise in jail suicides documented in a federal report on the county jail system last June, as well as ending prisoner abuse and improving generally poor jail conditions that the American Civil Liberties Union has described as the worst in the country.

In a statement, McDonnell said he was “pleased” with the settlement, calling it “a comprehensive approach to reform that our Department’s custody leadership has fully embraced.” Mark J. The settlement agreement was filed Wednesday along with a complaint alleging a pattern or practice of inadequate mental health care and excessive force in the jails that violate inmates’ constitutional rights. Changes from the 58-page agreement include more training for deputies and supervisors, greater inspection of jail operations, and the hiring of 500 new staff. The previous sheriff, Lee Baca, who had long denied that there were major problems at the jails, resigned in early 2014 as allegations mounted that guards not only abused inmates but also obstructed a federal investigation. Kappelhoff, a deputy assistant attorney general who led the investigation, said the “historic” settlement marked “a renewed commitment by the county and Sheriff McDonnell to provide constitutionally adequate care for prisoners with serious mental illness.” “The agreement also puts in place a structure that will help turn around a persistent culture in which the use of excessive force on prisoners was sometimes tolerated,” Kappelhoff said.

It requires reforms such as new training, improved records keeping and communication between custody and mental health staff to prevent and respond to suicides and self-inflicted injuries. Instead of being confined to a small cell, inmates could be able to move around a bit — hopefully calming potentially violent behavior with other inmates.

The agreement comes as federal prosecutors continue to pursue criminal charges against several sheriff’s officials, including the department’s former second-in-command, according to the Los Angeles Times. The sweeping changes will include putting into place a “coordinated multi-department county-wide systemic approach” to tackle mental health issues in county jails, including using Department of Mental Health (DMH) clinicians and medical services to provide crisis intervention and suicide prevention assistance, officials said. Prosecutors already have won convictions against deputies accused of abusing inmates or of obstructing federal investigators looking into jail violence. Nearly 20 additional LASD staff positions were also funded to work with DMH clinicians as joint roving teams to contact inmates and identify persons with mental illness, according to authorities. The reforms come on the heels of a DOJ report last year that found officials were not doing enough to prevent inmate suicides, and discovered that some prisoners were living in vermin-infested facilities, according to Al Jazeera.

Despite progress in the prior decade in the delivery of mental-health services, “serious systemic deficiencies remain,” including in suicide prevention, the report said. The new standards also come as some of the nation’s biggest prisons are facing scrutiny for their treatment of inmates, particularly when it comes to the mentally ill.

In June, a similar settlement was reached at New York City’s Riker’s Island – the country’s second-largest jail system – after an investigation found that inmates were routinely abused. In Chicago, a psychologist is now running Cook County Jail, called the “largest mental institution in the country.” Her series of mental healthcare services for inmates are unprecedented, and offer new ground into the world of prison management, where wardens complain that “they lack the money and expertise needed to deal with the problem,” reported The New York Times. William “Tom” Carey were charged with obstruction of justice for allegedly tampering with an FBI probe into allegations that deputies had abused inmates. When you do the cost-benefit, you can’t put a price on the humane treatment of those in our charge,” said Sheriff McDonnell. “This is our collective opportunity to be on the leading edge of reform and to become a national model.”

But as the top person at the Sheriff’s office, he was enmeshed in the controversy over the jail system, where one senior Justice Department official described deputy misbehavior as “institutionalized.” That agreement with the ACLU required the department to revise its use of force policy and give further training to deputies to prevent excessive force at two downtown Los Angeles jails.

Bryanne Hamill, a former New York Family Court judge who is now a member of the corrections board that runs the city’s jails, said that officers who were not trained in identifying mental illnesses or handling people who suffer from them were more inclined to use force to bring inmates in line with prison rules. “You can’t assume that the average corrections officer understands mental illness or medication,” Ms. It houses 15,000 to 19,000 prisoners on a daily basis and an average of 4,000 suffer from a mental illness — more than the number of patients in the California State Hospital system.

Hamill added that it was important to house inmates who had serious mental illnesses in an environment with mental health support — one that would not make their condition worse. Among other abuses that had been uncovered, inmates were subjected to racial insults, and at least one was made to parade naked in front of other prisoners before being sexually assaulted.

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