Los Angeles County and the American Civil Liberties Union reached an agreement to settle a lawsuit that alleged “barbaric” conditions in county jails, the Los Angeles Times reports. As part of the proposed settlement, which requires court approval, the county agreed to limits on how long detainees can be held at the inmate reception center in downtown L.A., as well as how long inmates can be handcuffed or tethered to chairs and benches there. The county committed to depopulating the jail by diverting some people into noncarceral beds. County officials said the agreement “recognizes the improved conditions in the inmate reception center resulting from the remedial actions taken by the county in recent months to improve waiting times, overcrowding and unsanitary conditions.” Corene Kendrick of the ACLU’s National Prison Project called the settlement “extraordinary” and “groundbreaking.” Normally, a jail or jurisdiction’s reforms will end at hiring additional mental health staff, which L.A. County also agreed to, serving better food or letting detainees out of their cells more often, Kendrick said. “This actually addresses some of the root causes of why the jails in L.A. have become the dumping grounds for the failed mental health and other systems that are just failing so many people in the county,” Kendrick said.
The agreement, the latest move in a class-action lawsuit filed in the 1970s, comes after the ACLU filed a motion in September raising concerns about poor conditions at the inmate reception center, where recently arrested detainees, many of who had not yet been arraigned, reportedly defecated on the floor and in food containers, were handcuffed in place for dozens of hours and denied medications for mental illnesses. A federal judge signed a temporary restraining order to address the conditions. The ACLU requested that Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna and the Board of Supervisors be held in contempt, alleging that the county had not lived up to requirements of the restraining order. They accused the county of flouting court orders by chaining inmates to benches and gurneys for hours at a time, locking people in cells covered with trash and feces, and leaving them to sleep on crowded intake center floors with nothing but plastic bags to keep warm. Under the agreement, the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department, which operates the jails, is barred from holding an inmate in the reception center for longer than 24 hours or handcuffing or tethering an inmate to an object for more than four hours. To decrease the jail population, the county will create more than 500 noncarceral beds for people found incompetent to stand trial, as well as nearly 1,700 for people with mental illness.