Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department agrees to federal oversight of jail system

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The US Department of Justice has reached a settlement agreement with Los Angeles County and its Sheriff's Department that will bring its jails under court oversight to address the treatment of mentally ill inmates.

The U.S. Department of Justice has reached a settlement agreement with Los Angeles County and its Sheriff's Department that targets the most problematic members of the jail population: mentally ill inmates.

The Los Angeles County jails house 15,000 to 19,000 prisoners on a daily basis and an average of 4,000 suffer from a mental illness, according to Sheriff Jim McDonnell.

The joint pact comes after years of investigations, lawsuits and internal improvement efforts failed to protect the jails' most vulnerable inmates. The Justice Department originally opened its investigation in 1996 and found constitutional deficiencies related to the treatment of mentally ill prisoners, suicide prevention and excessive force.

With the full cooperation of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, the federal court will now enforce compliance.

"The implementation of reforms will be overseen by an independent monitor who will evaluate the jails progress in an objective and transparent manner," said U.S. Attorney Eileen Decker.

The Sheriff's Department has made no secret of its needs. In the past year, it gave Eyewitness News a tour through the overcrowded facility.

One pilot program gives inmates more space to move instead of confining them to their cells and calms violent behavior within a volatile population.

Inmates pour through the jails' revolving door with wide-ranging and layered disorders, according to Assistant Sheriff Terri McDonald, who is in charge of custody operations.

"They're high on drugs, they're off their medications and it's a very complex job... Most people don't understand the magnitude of running the largest jail system in the United States," McDonald said.

The agreement also expands measures against excessive force and civil rights violations, including improvements in leadership, policies, training, data collection and analysis, and grievance procedures.

The case of Gabriel Carrillo, who was beaten by deputies and won a civil settlement over $1 million, could have been deterred if cameras had been operating in the visitor center. The joint agreement now demands cameras throughout the jail system.

The Sheriff's Department says 40 percent of the use of force incidents happen in the mental health ward.

"Yet our jails were not built for therapeutic care or treatment," McDonnell said.

He welcomes outside eyes on the department and said the agreement is an "opportunity to be on the leading edge of reform."

The agreement also requires reforms such as improved records keeping and communication between custody and mental health staff to prevent and respond to suicides and self-inflicted injuries. Suicide reduction is targeted in the agreement, although officials say the suicide rate at Los Angeles County jails is already half of other institutions across the country.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Related Topics:
los angeles county sheriff's departmentdepartment of justicemental healthinmatessuicideLos AngelesLos Angeles County
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