LOS ANGELES - Dangerous, grossly overcrowded and unsanitary conditions in Los Angeles County's jail system are worse than they were six months ago when a federal judge issued a temporary restraining order for the county to clean up the facility, according to legal papers filed today in U.S. District Court by attorneys for the ACLU of Southern California.
ACLU attorneys are asking the judge to find the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department and the county Board of Supervisors in contempt and order them to restore conditions at the jail to 'proper functioning.'
Mark Rosenbaum, ACLU/SC legal director, called the current jail conditions inconsistent with basic human values. 'Men's Central Jail has become Los Angeles County's version of Devil's Island, a hellhole where detainees convicted of no criminal offenses and frequently charged with non-violent offenses such as traffic violations are subjected to sleep deprivation for want of beds, insufficient feedings and wholesale lack of appropriate physical and mental health care,' Rosenbaum said.
'We have documented practices of cramming 50 men into tiny cells without beds, compelling detainees to attempt to sleep against walls or next to toilets,' Rosenbaum continued, 'Detainees have routinely been denied food, drink, functioning toilets and even toilet paper. In some cases, detainees have been hooded and chained to benches. These practices fail minimal standards of human decency.'
In a 10-page ruling last October, U.S. District Judge Dean D. Pregerson issued a temporary restraining order prohibiting the county from holding more that 20 inmates for more than 24 hours in small holding cells in it's inmate reception center, located at the Men's Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles.
Among the 16 sworn declarations filed today were statements from a real estate broker, a lawyer and a college professor, all of whom were shocked at the barbaric conditions they faced when detained in the jails.
'Since Feb. 10, 2007, the sheriff has not been in compliance with the IRC order for a single day'_' said ACLU attorneys in the filing. ''_On most days, 20 inmates or more are held over 24 hours; on some days this may double or even triple'_'
Melinda Bird, senior counsel for the ACLU/SC, said her office has been flooded with calls and letters from detainees at the inmate reception center. 'We have documented that inmates were held for 4 and 5 days without access to beds, clean water, visitors, phones or even a toothbrush' she said. 'It just cannot be allowed to continue.'
David Fathi, of the ACLU's National Prison Project, was co-counsel on this case.