Poor Mental Health Services in Los Angeles Jails Violate Prisoners' Constitutional Rights, Justice Department Review Says

By Altman, Larry | Pasadena Star-News, June 6, 2014 | Go to article overview

Poor Mental Health Services in Los Angeles Jails Violate Prisoners' Constitutional Rights, Justice Department Review Says


Altman, Larry, Pasadena Star-News


Noting that 15 people have killed themselves behind bars in less than 30 months, U.S. Department of Justice officials said Friday that Los Angeles County maintains deficient mental-health services, inadequate supervision and deplorable conditions in its county jails, violating the constitutional rights of inmates.

The department's assessment of the county jails - detailed in a June 4 letter to the county - revealed widespread lapses in basic supervision of at-risk prisoners, inadequate mental health care for prisoners with clear needs, deplorable environmental conditions and a suicide review process that included inaccurate information to prevent deaths.

The Sheriff's Department responded with a statement Friday that said it was disappointed with the report because the agency had made significant improvements since 1997.

"Every suicide and attempted suicide is of great concern to us," the statement said. "Both agencies are and have been fully committed to prevention efforts. We are disappointed that (Friday's) report fails to fully recognize the additional progress made over the last year and a half to improve mental health services."

Following inspections in March and June of 2013, the U.S. Department of Justice report concluded:

- The county failed to address a dramatic increase in suicides and suicide attempts in the jails. Four completed suicides occurred in 2012, but the number jumped to 10 in 2013, with another one in January 2014. Additionally, jails reported 366 suicide "incidents" in 2013, a 20 percent increase.

- Forty-four percent of inmates who harmed themselves were housed in mental health facilities at the time, indicating a lack of adequate supervision, including lapses in safety checks.

- Prisoners with mental illness are housed in dimly lit, vermin- infested, noisy, unsanitary, cramped and crowded conditions that might contribute to their mental distress. The problems were most acute at the Men's Central Jail, but also exist at the Century Regional Detention Facility and some areas of the Twin Towers Correctional Facility.

"Often suicide precautions are punitive in nature, even depriving some prisoners of a mattress to sleep on," the report said.

- Communication among custody staff, the Medical Services Bureau and Department of Mental Health is sometimes nonexistent. Staff members "operate in silos," maintaining separate charts and investigatory reports.

- Despite the increases in suicides, jail command staff persistently failed to review and appraise its practices and staffing.

"Fifteen suicides in 25 months produced almost no discernible change in the jails' custodial practices," the report said. …

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