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Problems linger at LA County jails

Posted: June 8, 2014 9:00 a.m.
Updated: June 7, 2014 9:17 p.m.

Despite progress in some areas, Los Angeles County continues to fail to provide sufficient suicide-prevention practices to protect prisoners from self-harm, a new U.S. Justice Department report concludes.

In its its latest assessment of mental health services at the Los Angeles County jails, the Justice Department also found that other serious deficiencies in the mental health care delivery system remain, exacerbated by inadequate supervision and deplorable living conditions. As a result inmates are routinely deprived constitutionally-required mental health care, according to a Justice Department press release.

The comprehensive assessment sent to the county on Wednesday and released Friday confirms that certain conditions and practices continue to violate the constitutional rights of prisoners with mental illness. There have been 15 suicides at the jails in less than 30 months, and the Justice Department concluded that some of the deaths may have been preventable with proper suicide prevention practices.

The Justice Department’s assessment also reveals widespread lapses with regard to basic supervision of prisoners at risk; deficient mental health care for prisoners with clearly demonstrated needs; deplorable environmental conditions, most acutely at Men’s Central Jail; and a suicide review process that often includes inaccurate information and fails to remedy evident and repeated problems in order to prevent similar incidents in the future.

The Los Angeles County jail system is the largest in the country, housing approximately 19,000 pre-sentenced and sentenced prisoners in seven facilities throughout the county. The Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department operates the jails system and supports the delivery of mental health services within the jails by the county’s Department of Mental Health.

In 2002, the Justice Department entered into a memorandum of agreement with the county to resolve a long-standing civil investigation into conditions of confinement at the jails under the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act. The agreement gives the Justice Department access to personnel, documents and prisoners to evaluate the county’s compliance, the press release said.

The Justice Department is assisted by expert consultants in correctional mental health care and suicide prevention, and provides ongoing technical assistance as part of its monitoring activities. The county has cooperated fully and openly with the Justice Department.

While significant lapses were found, the assessment also found improvements in the county’s jail system, the release said.

“For example, the county has implemented nearly all provisions related to mental health screening at intake, developed a robust electronic medical records system, increased the number of clinical and support staff, and ensured that custodial staff receive initial and ongoing training in the identification and custodial care of prisoners with mental illness,” the release said.

Justice Department officials said they plan to meet with officials from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and the county’s Department of Mental Health to discuss the results of the evaluation.



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