Los Angeles County Jail Plagued By Violence And Hazardous Conditions, ACLU Report Finds

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Will Matthews, ACLU national, (212) 549-2582 or 2666; media@aclu.org
Rachel Uranga, ACLU of Southern California, (213) 977-5252; ruranga@aclu-sc.org

Los Angeles County Jail Plagued By Violence And Hazardous Conditions, ACLU Report Finds

Facility Exemplifies Need To Reduce Prison And Jail Populations Across The Nation

LOS ANGELES - A
report released today by the American Civil Liberties Union shows that
overcrowding and unsanitary conditions that have plagued Los Angeles
County's Men's Central Jail for more than 30 years still persist, along
with an apparent culture of violence and fear, including
prisoner-on-prisoner assaults and the use of excessive force by
deputies.

The picture of the jail that emerges
in stark and disturbing detail in the report suggests that prisoners
with mental illnesses suffer some of the worst treatment, and that
retaliation by deputies against prisoners who complain about conditions
as well as a lack of transparency in conducting investigations into
prisoner complaints make it difficult to assess the full extent of
violence that occurs there.

"Men's Central Jail is a modern-day
medieval dungeon, a dank, windowless place where prisoners live in fear
of retaliation, and abuse apparently goes unchecked," said Peter
Eliasberg, managing attorney at the ACLU of Southern California. "The
jail is not an appropriate facility for housing prisoners with mental
illness, many of whom do not receive proper treatment. At the root of
the many problems plaguing this toxic facility is overcrowding, and the
only solutions are to either reduce its population dramatically or
close it."

With approximately 20,000 detainees,
the Los Angeles County jail system is the largest and most expensive in
the nation, costing nearly $1 billion a year to operate. Men's Central
Jail is nearly 50 years old and currently houses an average of 5,000
detainees daily. More than half are simply awaiting trial – in other
words, they are presumed innocent and have yet to get their day in
court.

As a result of decades-long
litigation in which the ACLU charges the conditions in the jail violate
the constitutional rights of detainees, the ACLU of Southern California
and the ACLU National Prison Project are the court-appointed monitors
of conditions within the jail.

The new report, based on the
observations of ACLU jail monitors, numerous interviews with prisoners
and thousands of prisoner complaints gathered between 2008 and 2009,
focuses on conditions inside Men's Central Jail, the largest jail in
the county's system.

In one case, a prisoner said he was
brutally beaten by deputies after complaining to an ACLU jail monitor
that he and other prisoners on his jail row had not been allowed to
shower for weeks. The deputies broke his leg and hurt his knee so badly
that he had to have surgery. The ferocious attack had a chilling
effect, silencing many of the prisoners on that row. When a jail
monitor visited a few days after the beating, many refused to talk,
while those who did spoke in hushed tones for fear of also being
targeted.

Another significant concern is that
a high percentage of prisoners are mentally ill, many of whom are
unable to control their disturbed behavior. A national expert found
abuse of prisoners by deputies to be disproportionately directed toward
those with mental illness.

"The dangerously overcrowded
conditions at Men's Central Jail exacerbate violence, filth and mental
illness among the detainee population, creating a poisonous brew," said
Mary Tiedeman, jails project coordinator for the ACLU of Southern
California and co-author of the report. "No human being should be
forced to live in such egregious conditions. But what is so troubling
is that most of these prisoners are awaiting trial, still presumed
innocent."

It is difficult for the ACLU to
assess accurately the extent of violence inside the jails or to confirm
some allegations. The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department refuses
to release basic information about how it conducts investigations of
abuse and metes out punishment. This lack of transparency raises
serious questions about the department's independence and internal
review process and could even encourage violence within the facility.
The ACLU is further hampered by a widespread fear of retaliation among
prisoners, portrayed in numerous prisoner complaints.

"It's time for the county and the
Sheriff's Department to deal with the longstanding problems, and
spending more money on a newer and bigger jail is not the answer," said
Margaret Winter, Associate Director of the ACLU National Prison
Project. "It's time for county officials to lower the jail population
by using proven diversion programs such as electronic monitoring and
drug and mental health treatment. The conditions at Men's Central Jail
are simply among the most barbaric of any jail or prison in the nation."

A copy of today's report is available online at: www.aclu.org/prisoners-rights/annual-report-conditions-inside-mens-central-jail-2008-2009 

Additional information about the ACLU National Prison Project is available online at: www.aclu.org/prison

Additional information about the ACLU of Southern California is available online at: www.aclu-sc.org

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The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) conserves America's original civic values working in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in the United States by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

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