The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Will Matthews, ACLU National, (212) 549-2582 or 2666;
Gordon Smith, ACLU of Southern California, (213) 977-5252;

ACLU Releases Expert's Report On Nightmarish Conditions At Men's Central Jail In Los Angeles

Recent Death Of Detainee Heightens Need For Sweeping Improvements


The American Civil Liberties Union today released an expert's report
documenting how brutally overcrowded conditions cause or contribute to
violence and serious mental illness in Los Angeles County's aging Men's
Central Jail, and demanded that county officials swiftly implement
changes to prevent unnecessary deaths or serious injuries.

The release of the report, authored
by Dr. Terry Kupers, a national expert on correctional medical health
care, comes as the county investigates the death of John Horton, 22,
who was found hanging from a noose in his cell on March 30 after
spending more than a month in Men's Central Jail following his arrest
on a drug possession charge. The ACLU also released a letter from a
fellow detainee who details the events leading up to the death of
Horton, who was held in solitary confinement in a dimly lit,
windowless, solid-front cell the size of a closet. His body was already
stiff by the time security staff discovered it, according to the

"Men's Central Jail is so grossly
overcrowded, dangerous and dungeon-like that it puts intolerable stress
on the jailed as well as the jailers," said Margaret Winter, Associate
Director of the ACLU National Prison Project. "The county must do
whatever it takes to stop subjecting people to the nightmarish
conditions in this jail, and stop denying basic mental health treatment
to those who need it."

The problems and urgently needed
reforms are spelled out in a 50-page report by Dr. Kupers, who details
abominable conditions inside Men's Central Jail. The report,
commissioned by the ACLU and submitted to Los Angeles County Sheriff
Lee Baca last year, was released publicly today after months of
negotiations with the sheriff's department failed to yield any
substantive commitment to address Dr. Kupers' findings.

Among other things, Dr. Kupers found
that idleness and massive overcrowding at the jail leads to violence,
victimization, custodial abuse and ultimately psychotic breakdown even
in relatively healthy people, as well as potentially irreversible
psychosis in detainees with pre-existing illness.

Dr. Kupers also reported that the
mental health staff at the jail routinely fails to diagnose prisoners
with serious mental illness, and downgrades the diagnoses of many who
have long-established and well-documented maladies. These practices
conceal the massive numbers of seriously mentally ill detainees, while
also resulting in the transfer of many to the general jail population
where they are victimized, or to solitary confinement where their
condition dramatically deteriorates.

With 20,000 detainees, the Los
Angeles County jail system is the largest in the nation. Men's Central
Jail is nearly 50 years old and currently houses an average of 5,000
detainees. Most are awaiting trial and have not been convicted, and Dr.
Kupers estimated that nearly half of them suffer from mental illness.

The county spends more than $140 per
night - a total of more than $50,000 per year - to house each detainee
with mental illness. And many low-risk detainees remain in jail for
months simply because they are too poor to make bail. Adopting a
comprehensive pre-trial release program for these detainees that makes
use of electronic monitoring or other close supervision would reduce
the extreme overcrowding in the county's jails and free up millions of
dollars for increased mental-health services without any risk to public

"We call on the county to review the
toxic conditions, abuse and overcrowding documented in Dr. Kupers'
report, and that may have contributed to the tragic death of John
Horton," said Melinda Bird, senior counsel for the ACLU of Southern
California. "The county spends $1 billion per year on its jails. Some
of these funds must be diverted to new, more cost-effective programs
that will reduce recidivism and end the criminalization of mental
illness - a cycle of incarceration that ensnares thousands of detainees
with mental disabilities every year."

A copy of Dr. Kupers' report detailing the conditions at Men's Central Jail in Los Angeles is available online at:

A copy of the letter from a Men's Central Jail detainee regarding the death of John Horton is available online at:

A letter from the ACLU to the Los
Angeles County Board of Supervisors asking for sweeping improvements to
the conditions at Men's Central Jail is available online at:

Additional information about the ACLU National Prison Project is available online at:

The American Civil Liberties Union was founded in 1920 and is our nation's guardian of liberty. The ACLU works in the courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to all people in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States.

(212) 549-2666