Dangerous Jails

LA’s dangerous and abuse-ridden Men’s Central Jail sees three more deaths in a single week

LA County's Men's Central Jail, via WitnessLA
Celeste Fremon
Written by Celeste Fremon

WitnessLA gets calls from people inside of Los Angeles County’s jail system on a semi-regular basis. A great deal of the time, the callers just want to talk to someone.

But, in other instances, the jail residents–many of whom are past sources who’ve kept in touch—want to know if we can get them some help with problems they are facing inside the system’s various facilities, most particularly Men’s Central Jail.

Some of the problems are irritating but not endangering, such as mail sent to or from family members and/or lawyers, which seem repeatedly to fail to arrive. Some of the vanishing mail can presumably be chalked up to some glitch in the system. But much of the mail disappearance, according to civil rights attorneys we’ve spoken with who’ve also dealt with the problem, seems instead to be a petty form of abuse.

Sometimes, however, the problems point to more serious concerns.

In the case of one recent repeat caller who has some very challenging health conditions, he finds that his needed medication fails to follow him whenever he is moved between facilities for one reason or another.

This also occurs when he is sent to LA General Medical Center, because his health has taken a temporary turn for the worse. Again, when he returns to MCJ, or Twin Towers, the medication he’s been prescribed doesn’t show up for several days or far longer, despite the fact that his need for his medication is critical.

Yet, as WLA has frequently reported, missing medication is only one in a list of persistent dangers in LA County’s jail system.

Chained to benches and chairs

Late last year we wrote about the multiple ways in which reports by the county’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) and the ACLU of Southern California, pointed to staggeringly awful conditions in the jail system’s Inmate Reception Center (IRC).

The OIG’s report for the second quarter of 2022, described how people experiencing mental health crises were chained to benches and chairs, sometimes for two or more days while they waited to be processed.

Then, last fall, the state of affairs at the county’s jail intake center reached a disturbing new low, causing the ACLU to file 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.

Seven months later, on April 5 of this year, the ACLU filed a new set of documents in support of the motion to hold the still un-compliant county in contempt.

More recently, with the help of our wonderful pro-bono attorney, we have filed a motion to unseal some important evidence of abuse inside the jails.

(More on that issue later.)

Dying in lock-up

And then there are the deaths. Since the beginning of 2023, the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department has reported 30 in-custody deaths.

In MCJ alone, during the week between August 3 and August 9, there were three deaths.

In response to this most recent spate of people dying, Michelle Parris, director of the Vera Institute of Justice’s California office, sent us the following statement.

“The Vera Institute of Justice calls for immediate action to stop the ongoing and tragic loss of life in Los Angeles County jails. The county’s continued failure to address the issue puts incarcerated Angelenos in undeniable peril. In the course of only six days, three more people—one just 20 years old—have died in the decrepit and dangerous Men’s Central Jail (MCJ), a facility with conditions even county officials have called ‘unconscionable.’ “

These losses bring 2023’s running death toll to 30, which Parris said means this year is “on track to be the deadliest on record for the country’s largest jail system.” Parris noted that the LA County Board of Supervisors “made important promises in 2020,” one of which was to make “care first” their default strategy whenever possible, “and use jail as a last resort.” It is “this mantra,” she said, that “needs to spur action in this moment of crisis.”

Men’s Central Jail, where the three recent deaths occurred, Parris wrote, should not even be in operation.

“The Board has agreed and stated its intent to close MCJ without a replacement,” Parris continued. “More than two years ago, the board commissioned a report—created and endorsed by the Sheriff’s Department and the Office of Diversion and Reentry—on how to close Men’s Central Jail within two years. It is unacceptable that no actual plan has been adopted. The board’s commitment to closing MCJ is further betrayed by the failure of the Jail Closure Implementation Team—created and funded by the board—to publish a single progress report in more than a year, much less address the mounting death toll. This does not reflect a county serious about its commitment to close what it acknowledges is ‘consistently ranked among the ten worst facilities in the country.'”

The responsible path forward is clear, said Parris. “The board must acknowledge the emergency at hand, commit to a timeline for closing MCJ within the next two years, and adopt a decarceration plan for MCJ immediately.”

Deaths and autopsies

The Vera Institute for Justice, for those unfamiliar, is well known for its partnerships with impacted communities and various government leaders in order to “implement solutions so that fewer people are behind bars, and everyone is treated with dignity.”

In response to the latest string of deaths, Sam McCann at Vera had this to say about LA’s ongoing and deadly jails crisis.

“For one thing,” said McCann, “the LA County Sheriff’s Department doesn’t report the names of the people who die in jail custody. The LASD provides basic information such as the person’s age, date of death, whether they were held pretrial or awaiting sentencing, and where they were detained.”

And when the county does publish autopsy reports, wrote McCann, “community members and others who examine individual autopsies say that too often,” the county provides inconclusive information “and, in some cases the autopsy misclassifies deaths.”

Also, it should be noted that, of those who have died in LA County jails since the beginning of the year, 28 percent are Black men, 41 percent are identified as “Hispanic.”

McCann also noted that the “vast majority of those who have died”—18 of the 30—”were held pretrial.”

This means that many of those 18 were locked up, simply because they couldn’t afford bail.

Furthermore, according to a study released last year by UCLA researchers, in the cases of the jail deaths that UCLA examined, the cause of death, if listed at all, often appears to be at odds with other facts listed.

With the UCLA study in mind, WLA noted that, as of now, only one of 2023’s in-custody deaths has a cause of death listed.

The man whose cause of death they did list, was 49-years-old, and was listed as “pre-sentencing.”

The location where the man died was a “common hallway,” of the jail. The manner of death was listed as “suicide.”

Yet, while the county lists the dead man as someone who has killed himself, the means of death was listed as “multiple blunt force injuries.”

All of the above may be perfectly correct, of course.

But the juxtaposition of “suicide” and death by “multiple blunt force injuries,” cannot help but trigger questions.


  • Nothing new to be said that already has not been said. The federal government should step in with revision and funding.
    Unfortunately the bad deeds of several deputues overshadow the good deeds of most good deputies.
    Los Angeles County residents have no faith in the wheeling and dealing of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

  • I am a former inmate of LACSD the conditions there are deplorable to say the least sickening. I know the Cops sit back and do nothing in the protection of inmates. The fucking Mexican gangs tax people to stay there everyone pays or you get jumped. The cops know this why don’t they put those punks in a place where they can kill each other yes most of the violence is from the Mexicans most injurys or death are caused by them picking on the week.

  • I remember getting yanked out of line and getting what they called flashlight therapy, deputies would beat you up with their flashlights which contained 8 d size batteries.

  • @ Better call Saul – While you’re thinking,
    what are your thoughts when Donald T goes to prison, protective custody or a cell with Bubba?

  • USDOJ oversight over recent decades along with LA County’s attempted compliance with dictates from the DOJ, have failed dismally. The Los Angeles County BOS’s past resolutions have stated their intent to replace MCJ due to an inability to upgrade it to comply with the USDOJ demands. Yet in recent years, the BOS has scuttled those plans thereby ensuring the continuation of the dredded conditions. The BOS has chosen for these conditions to continue with emphasis shifting to release inmates back into society. We see how their ideas are working in and out of MCJ.

  • agreed better call saul!! I worked in la county jail for years and I used to crush inmates. obviously not where or when cameras were rolling and beating the crap out of them somewhat kept order. I the rolled up fron LA county jail and into patrol at Lennox station. Shootings, beatings, and control kept order. I even took my spouse off training as her FTO because her ex didn’t know how to conduct himself. She was struggling and I was going through a separation so I signed her off of training and we spawned a relationship. Lennox was a dangerous place for patrons who didn’t know how to act but for the one’s who did it was a great place. shootings and beatings off the books are necessary evil’s in police work which I would contribute my current success to! You may disagree but pin on a badge and then let’s have a discussion. Corrupt cops are sometimes the best cops!

  • I have been a product of the ca prison/la county jail system for the last 28 years and to be honest McKay has actually gotten better but it’s tragic to lose a loved one while incarcerated and no matter how hard you try to weed out a few bad apples , it only takes one to spoil the whole bunch . I think that the aclu and federal authorities need to have a office inside of Mcj and allow access from the inmates 24/7 in order to be able to monitor the force used on inmates and hopefully not fall in line with it….

  • Nothing to see here folks , go back to your homes. One death was a murder, one was an over dose, and another just natural causes. Deputies nor Jesus could have prevented these things.

    A lot of spin on this story and headline grabbing “facts.” I understand real facts are boring and no one cares about all the planes that safely land everyday, we only care about the “plane crashes” that happen from time to time.

  • My brother died in La county jail Jeremiah Hardwell he had been in custody since may , he was transferred to a new facility and only 4 hours after being there he died on July 29th . The detectives will not provide us with any information , the family does not know anything . We had a memorial for him on wed august 16th but we still don’t have his body he was passing through California but was from Colorado . We are shipping his body back to Colorado we don’t know the condition of his body or anything . He didn’t deserve this .

  • @Reception Center

    Trump isn’t going to jail, so no need to worry about it. Those cases will be dropped just like all the cases filed against LASD by current and former employees.

  • My brother was there and made a call that he was going to get released on 7/13/23. No calls nothing from him. No trace at all. Very scary!! Not sure what happened

  • I was in LA county jail in the early 90s and I was 18 years old Latino gang member and let me say this was my first time locked up as an adult but not my last at that time. I thought I was this seasoned gang member when I went in, but boy was I wrong that place is the jungle and infested with the worst people you could come across..my time in LA county was a nightmare, not because of fear of being attacked by others so much, but in fear of breaking a little rule and getting regulated or even worse, taken out WACKED! by my so called homeboyz. I did a lot of bad things to people while locked up in LA County mens central jail and wayside super max..it was them or me situation because if I didn’t do what we old I would get wacked and I remember fighting with my conscience all my bells going off throughout my head and body not wanting to hurt someone for really no reason at all other then power for my gang..I was pretty much living in fear the entire time locked up in that hell hole but never showed on my face,you can’t. I’ve seen killings ,beatings, extortion,rap and so many others things go on and you turn your like nothing happened because that is the way it is in there..LA county desensitizes you after awhile it’s sad. The white have it the worst in there if they are not a gangster convict yet that knows the ropes already. I have PTSD from that County Jail and I and had it better then most in that shit hole because of the gang I ran with at that time. I’m so sorry to hear about the senseless death that happened to all the inmates in the LA county jail. And I’m sorry for the pain I caused other in that place I was a lost soul at the time..I continue to pray for the men and women who are locked up in the LA county jail system who are actually trying to do their time the right way and go home to their family and love ones.

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