ACLU seeks better conditions at L.A. inmate processing center
LOS ANGELES – A federal judge said Thursday he was troubled by reports of overcrowding and filth at the processing center for the nation’s largest county jail system, but feared conditions were so pervasive that an order to make changes would force inmates into other strained facilities.
U.S. District Court Judge Dean D. Pregerson, who has been presiding over a lawsuit challenging jail conditions, called Thursday’s hearing. The American Civil Liberties Union sought an injunction requesting Sheriff Lee Baca and county supervisors to make immediate improvements.
Pregerson ended the nearly four-hour hearing by saying he needed time to think before issuing a ruling.
“I don’t think it’s going to do me any good, you any good, or citizens of the county any good to issue an injunction that doesn’t do anything,” Pregerson said. “The problem is that the end of the pipeline is clogged. The Men’s Central Jail is full.”
Since mid-September, hundreds of men were detained for up to four days at the jail’s Inmate Reception Center “in almost unspeakable conditions,” the ACLU alleged in documents filed in federal court Wednesday.
Up to 60 men were kept in cells meant for 20 people as they awaited transfer to a permanent jail, the ACLU alleged. Some had to take turns standing for hours at a time so that others could have room to sit or sleep on the floor.
Attorney David Lawrence, representing the county, said the ACLU’s descriptions of the processing center “have been grossly distorted.”
“While these declarations appear in abstract to paint a picture of something draconian, you have to read between the lines,” Lawrence said.
Sheriff’s Capt. Timothy Cornell, who is in charge of the Inmate Reception Center, said there was little he could do to improve the crowded conditions because the jail doesn’t have enough space for new inmates.
Since Sept. 13 more than 1,000 inmates spent the night at the facility – exceeding the “fairly constant” number of 500 to 900 inmates per night, according to an ACLU jail monitor.
“Inmates are compelled to sleep on filthy, urine-stenched floors,” ACLU lawyer Mark Rosenbaum said Thursday.
The ACLU was seeking an immediate reduction in the number of inmates to 20 per holding cell, and that they receive adequate food, water, sanitation and medical care.
The preliminary injunction also seeks to prohibit the county from holding any inmates at the center for more than 24 hours. It would require the county to fund a study looking into policies that will help reduce the jail population.