LOS ANGELES - U.S. District Judge Dean D. Pregerson extended a temporary restraining order to end overcrowding in the county jail system's central processing hub during a hearing Monday. He also ordered the Sheriff's Department to submit a plan to improve jail conditions in 2007 before a Jan. 11 hearing.

In legal papers filed last week, the ACLU/SC requested a preliminary injunction to ensure inmates are not packed into cells without access to regular food, water, beds, or even blankets. The ACLU of Southern California sought the hearing to expose loopholes the county has used to circumvent the Oct. 27 order.

'Tragically, the manner in which the County has implemented the TRO has subverted its intent and purpose. While for the most part appearing to be in technical compliance with the order, the County has excavated loopholes that continue to work great hardship on inmates and detainees,' the papers in the three-decades-old jails-condition lawsuit, Rutherford v. Baca, said.

Judge Pregerson did not immediately grant the ACLU/SC's request but extended the TRO for four weeks and ordered a hearing for Jan. 11. He also ordered the Sheriff's Department to present a 'long-term plan' for the year a week before the hearing and denied the department's request to put six men in cells built for four, and four men in two-man cells.

'We're pleased that Judge Pregerson extended the restraining order without allowing the increases in cell population the sheriff had requested,' said ACLU/SC staff attorney Melinda Bird.

The ACLU/SC found that since the TRO was granted on Oct. 27, inmates are being held in medical areas, which are exempt from the order, and scores of inmates are shuffled daily for weeks at a time between the Inmate Reception Center and holding cells at the jails facilities without ever being assigned regular housing.

'What we have observed indisputably violates the spirit and intent of the judge's orders,' said Bird.