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Conditions at LA County’s Jail Intake Center Continue to Violate Judge’s Preliminary Injunction, ACLU Says

Crowded and unsanitary conditions at the Inmate Reception Center
Photo of the Inmate Reception Center Clinic / ACLU exhibit
Taylor Walker
Written by Taylor Walker

Last year, conditions at Los Angeles County’s jail intake center reached lows so disturbing that the ACLU filed an emergency motion on September 8, 2022, asking U.S. District Judge Dean D. Pregerson, who oversees the county’s 2015 federal consent decree, to issue a temporary restraining order against the county.

As WLA has previously reported, staff from both the ACLU and the LA County Office of Inspector General found that people were being chained to benches for days in the Inmate Reception Center (IRC). Some who were denied medications and medical and mental evaluations, died as a consequence.

Excrement and trash covered floors that people — those not chained to chairs — were also forced to sleep on, due to overcrowding. 

“The Clinic area was filthy. My shoes stuck to the floor,” ACLU Senior Staff Attorney Melissa Camacho-Cheung wrote in a declaration accompanying the September motion. “One of the two toilets behind the rows of Clinic chairs had soaked towels around the base that appeared to be covered with urine and feces.” In the same part of the IRC, Camacho-Cheung said she saw more than a dozen people lying on the floor. 

“I observed five individuals on the Front Bench, which is the area around the raised deputies’ station,” the attorney wrote. “They were wearing suicide gowns and sitting chained to their chairs with handcuffs and waist chains, as is required in the Front Bench area.” Two of those people, Camacho-Cheung found, had been chained to the bench for more than 24 hours. 

A week later, on September 16, Judge Pregerson issued a preliminary injunction, which banned the LA County Sheriff’s Department from holding an incarcerated person in the Inmate Reception Center for longer than 24 hours. The LASD must not chain, handcuff, otherwise tether anyone to seating “or any other object,” for more than 4 hours. 

According to the order, the LASD is also required to keep IRC in “a clean and sanitary condition, with access to functioning toilets, potable drinking water, clean water to wash, and sufficient garbage receptacles.” IRC staff must also provide people in custody regular pill calls and other medical and mental health care.

On February 27, 2023, the ACLU National Prison Project and the ACLU of Southern California filed a motion asking Judge Dean Pregerson to hold LA County, the Board of Supervisors and the new sheriff, Robert Luna, in contempt of court for failing to abide by the preliminary injunction. 

The ACLU’s February motion detailed how the sheriff’s department was subverting the 24-hour time limit by using other jail space as overflow for IRC, chaining people to gurneys in hallways for hours instead of their former habit of chaining those waiting to be placed to the IRC benches. 

The sheriff’s department did not include these people for whom the 24-hour clock had been stopped in “IRC overflow” in the reports required by the preliminary injunction until February 23. 

The LASD has argued that 94 percent of people processed at the IRC spend fewer than 24 hours before moving elsewhere in the jail system. The ACLU says this is an undercount that ignores the overflow numbers. 

In total, 1,364 spent longer than 24 hours in IRC between September 2022 and February 2023. Of those, 217 people were held for more than 36 hours.

On April 5, the ACLU filed a new set of documents in support of the motion to hold the county in contempt. These filings include evidence of the sheriff’s department violating the injunction again very recently — between March 1 and April 1, 2023. 

A declaration from Southern California ACLU Chief Counsel Peter Eliasberg shows that on 25 out of the 32 days between March 1, and April 1, one or more people had surpassed 24 hours at the IRC. On March 11, there were 41 people in IRC for more than 24 hours, four of whom were held for more than 36 hours. The second worst day occurred on March 22, when 12 people were held beyond the 24-hour mark. On March 4 and 5, 17 people were held in IRC overflow.

The longest IRC stay during the period studied was just under 62 hours. 

The LASD has also failed to limit the time people are chained to chairs to under four hours, according to the ACLU’s latest filings. In the two weeks between March 1 through March 15, 104 people were chained to the front bench for longer than four hours.

Moreover, people are still going without their prescribed psychiatric medications, and conditions remain unsanitary. 

“We have all been here before, too many times,” the ACLU attorneys wrote in their reply brief on April 5.

“More than four decades of monitoring and litigation has resulted in an endless nightmare game of whack-a-mole,” they wrote.  “…conditions in LA County Jails’ Inmate Reception Center (IRC) marginally improve; then stuff hits the fan; everything falls apart; and it’s a disaster in the IRC,” said ACLU. “Plaintiffs seek the Court’s help; Defendants unveil plans to improve things, conditions briefly get better, then a new problem arises or an old problem revives.” 

At this point, they wrote, conditions become “dreadful again,” sending the ACLU and the county back to court. “Rinse and repeat, ad nauseum.”

The next hearing on the matter is set for April 19, in Judge Pregerson’s courtroom.

So, what is the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors doing about the problem?

One of the ways that the county hopes to unclog the jail intake pipeline is by reducing the jail population. 

Yet, more than three-and-a-half years have passed since the LA County Board of Supervisors vowed to close Men’s Central Jail without replacing it with a new jail. Community advocates say that the board hasn’t done enough to prioritize community care and to take the steps laid out in a 148-page report released in April 2021, which detailed how to close MCJ within 18-24 months.

For example, the board argued for years before agreeing to increase the capacity of the Office of Diversion and Reentry’s mental health diversion program by 750 beds last October.

One month earlier, in response to the evidence presented by the ACLU and the Office of the Inspector General regarding conditions in the IRC, the supervisors returned to previously called-off plans to replace the dangerously run-down Men’s Central Jail with a locked medical facility or multiple smaller facilities. 

Building on that September action, this past Tuesday, April 4, the board approved a motion by Supervisors Hilda Solis and Janice Hahn to develop 500 locked mental health beds for “non-traditionally divertable” people, those found incompetent to stand trial, and others accused of serious crimes with severe mental health needs.

“I don’t think I need to remind anyone that there is an active DOJ consent decree that we are not fully in compliance with regarding the poor treatment of people with mental health needs in our jail, the lack of programming, and the lack of therapy space.” Supervisor Hahn said during the board meeting. Sixty percent of the 14,000 people in the jail system, Hahn pointed out, “have some level of mental health needs.” 

The board was also slated to consider a motion from Supervisors Hilda Solis and Lindsey Horvath that would have declared “the state of mental health services and overcrowding in the Los Angeles County jails a humanitarian crisis,” requiring the county “to move with all deliberate speed on meaningful solutions.” 

In advance of the April 4 meeting, however, Supervisor Solis said that her office “received concerns from a variety of stakeholders — those who feel the motion is not doing enough and those who feel it is doing too much.” Thus, she sent the motion back to the drawing board, with the intention of gathering more feedback from stakeholders.

In addition to declaring jail conditions a humanitarian crisis, Solis and Horvath’s motion would have triggered dozens of actions aimed at reducing the jails’ numbers.

The motion would have directed county departments to work with municipal law enforcement partners to expand the use of “cite and release” countywide, for example. It also would have triggered a letter from the board to the LA Superior Court to restart the Emergency Bail Schedule, which was in place from the start of the pandemic through July 2022. The supervisors also sought extended court hours to meet the needs of people who cannot attend court during business hours.

Solis and Hahn’s motion included plans for expanding diversion, split sentencing, and alternative sentencing, as well as pretrial release support and other strategies to keep people awaiting trial out of LA County jails, to reduce the length of jail stays post-trial, and to help people reentering their communities after incarceration. 

“The County is at a point in which immediate action must be taken,” Solis wrote in a statement after she pulled the motion. “However,” she wrote, “the authority and responsibility to close Men’s Central Jail does not rest solely with the Board of Supervisors. The Board of Supervisors has limited jurisdiction and authority over the safe decarceration and diversion of those in County jails, as these authorities lie largely with the Los Angeles Superior Court, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), and the Los Angeles County Sheriff.”


  • Well let’s see, Solis & Horvath want to release more inmates under the guise of “mental illness.” It appears that these two wonder twins are looking to list the mental illness & overcrowding in the jails as a humanitarian crisis.

    Basically, If passed, the local sheriff (puppet), would be instructed to review its bail thresholds and to cite and release “individuals with aggregate bail amounts set at $50,000 or below.” The Los Angeles Superior Court would be directed to “implement the Emergency Bail Schedule that was in place at the height of the COVID pandemic” in an effort to “prioritize increased opportunities for pre-trial release.”

    Well folks, if the inmates are not running the asylum (streets) right now, they sure as heck will be in the not to distant future.

  • L.A. County Voter

    Back in the olden days only misdemeanants were cited & released back into the streets. $10,000 is the dividing line between Misdemeanor & Felony.
    Raising cite & release bail amounts to $50,000 means Felons will be cited & released back out into the streets.
    That’s a good idea?

  • @Rakkasan

    Negative. My apologies if I did not clarify my position. If these folks commit the crime, they must do the time.

  • Ironic that McDonnell (as Sheriff) was on board with the torrid conditions at Mens Central Jail including some deputies who never should have been hired

    Villanueva’s reign was all talk and posturing while deputies ran rampant with foolishness. We’ll have to wait and see how the current Sheriff act and react.

    BTW, does anyone know why Alex uses his media name as Sheriff Villanueva 33? Such vanity…….

  • Clarification of McDonnell being “on board” meaning he was on board for changes to and in Mens Central Jail and getting rid of incompetent deputies.

    The County of Los Angeles has given away more money than Super Lotto behind lawsuits involving incompetent deputies.

  • @Watchdog, yes mistakes were made by McD… however, he also got rid of bad apples. In Villanueva’s case the Department will see bad decision making & problems in the coming years from deputies who never should have been hired…. from the (ELA want to be gangsters). There was a quid pro deal made between the Villan and ol McB who was @ Personnel.

    So as far as his media c**p no one cares for the exception of a couple woman ( Bibi’s folk ). I hear potato head sputtering about Fraud. I believe he may be talking about his former door keeper. Talk about fraud has any one seen Satterfield? Is anyone calling him or the former County celebrity for career advice…. aka skippers who used to call former Mrs Sheriff for career advice, and then end up being promoted to Commanders and Chief’s.

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