ACLU Calls for Fines Against LA County Over Poor Jail Conditions


The Twin Towers jail in downtown Los Angeles. | Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has called for a federal judge to hold Los Angeles County, its Board of Supervisors, and Sheriff Robert Luna in contempt of court over their failure to address what the organization describes as “abysmal” conditions at the county jail system's booking center. The motion was filed in a federal court in Los Angeles and claims that mentally ill detainees were shackled to chairs for days at a time, while others slept head-to-foot on concrete floors due to overcrowding.

The ACLU alleges that detainees at the Twin Towers Correctional Facility in downtown Los Angeles were subjected to unhygienic conditions, including overflowing sinks and toilets, littered floors, and lack of access to showers or clean clothes for days. The group further claims that the facility has been negligent in providing adequate health care, including failing to provide necessary medications to people with serious mental illness or chronic medical conditions and failing to provide care to people dangerously detoxing from drugs and alcohol.

This latest action by the ACLU is part of a long history of federal oversight of the county jail system, which is the largest in the country. In September, a court granted a permanent injunction to move mentally ill inmates and others out of the inmate reception center and into secure housing within 24 hours. However, the ACLU claims that delays in processing and intake of detainees have continued, and people are still suffering in appalling conditions.

The civil rights group has requested that U.S. District Judge Dean Pregerson, who is overseeing the case, hold the county, the sheriff, and the Board of Supervisors in civil contempt and fine them for any continued failure to comply with the court's orders. A hearing is set for March 20 in Los Angeles federal court to discuss the matter.

The LA County Sheriff’s Department runs the jail system, and a representative declined to comment due to the pending litigation. The conditions at LA County jails have been the subject of court oversight since 1978, when a federal court judge ruled that the conditions violated the constitutional rights of people incarcerated.

Corene Kendrick, deputy director of the ACLU National Prison Project, stated that "the L.A. County Jail system is a national disgrace" and has been under court oversight for almost 50 years to provide basic minimum standards of sanitation, health care, and human decency to people detained there. Many of the people detained at the reception center are unhoused and have serious mental illnesses, according to the ACLU.

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