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Judge Threatens Contempt Ruling Over Poor L.A. County Jail Condition

Lawyers for Los Angeles County admitted Wednesday that officials had not complied with an injunction ordering them to clean up the county jails, but a visibly annoyed federal judge agreed to wait two more months before deciding whether to find the sheriff and county supervisors in contempt of court, reports the Los Angeles Times. “You’re on full notice that what will be coming up in 60 days is a contempt hearing,” U.S. District Judge Dean Pregerson told the county’s legal team after hearing nearly four hours of updates on the state of Los Angeles jails. This week’s court date addressed developments in three long-standing federal lawsuits, none of which seem to be going well for the county. In addition to planning a contempt hearing in the oldest of those cases, the judge hinted that he’d be open to considering contempt in another case — a lawsuit brought by the U.S. Department of Justice that accuses the county of providing unconstitutionally bad mental health care behind bars.


Pregerson interjected often, sometimes cutting off the county’s attorneys with clear annoyance or weary questions. At one point, a lawyer for the county suggested the judge should consider visiting the jails again as he had before, this time to see the improvements and better understand the roadblocks to faster change.

“We’ll roll out the red carpet,” attorney Robert Dugdale said. Without a hint of mirth, Pregerson replied: “I don’t want the red carpet, and when I saw it initially, it was horrible.” The case that led to Wednesday’s plans for a contempt hearing was filed in 1975. It alleged that conditions in the county’s jails violated the 8th Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. The case went to trial, and eventually a federal judge ordered a series of improvements, which the county has yet to carry out. In recent years, much of the court’s attention has been on conditions in the Inmate Reception Center, where men who’ve just been arrested are sent for booking. Most of the inmates there have not yet been convicted of a crime, and the facility isn’t intended to hold people for extended periods. Detainees have reported living in filth and not being given needed psychiatric medication.

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