LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — Despite progress in some areas, the Los Angeles County jail system fails to provide sufficient suicide-prevention practices to protect prisoners from self-harm, federal prosecutors announced Friday.
The comprehensive assessment (PDF) from the U.S. Attorney's Office found that "certain conditions and practices continue to violate the constitutional rights of prisoners with mental illness" following 15 suicides at county jails in less than 30 months - some of which may have been preventable, according to the Justice Department.
Prosecutors say the assessment reveals several widespread lapses with regard to basic supervision of prisoners at risk, including:
- 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 report states the following: "Based on our review, we conclude that the County violates the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution by failing to provide adequate mental health services and protect prisoners from serious harm and risk of harm at the Jails due to inadequate suicide prevention practices."
As part of a 2002 deal, Los Angeles County gave the Justice Department access to personnel, documents and prisoners to evaluate the county's compliance under the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA), according to prosecutors.
While noting "considerable progress" made at county jails - including a robust electronic medical records system, increased mental health staffing, and ongoing training for custodial staff - the report found that many inmates "may well be safely and more effectively served in community-based settings at a lower cost to the County."
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, according to the Justice Department.
In response to the report, the Sheriff's Department issued a statement saying it has made significant improvements over the years since the federal civil rights probe was conducted.
"Every suicide and attempted suicide is of great concern to us," according to the department. "Both agencies are and have been fully committed to prevention efforts. We are disappointed that today's report fails to fully recognize the additional progress made over the last year and a half to improve mental health services. The report also mischaracterizes and significantly understates the incredible efforts made to improve our suicide-prevention practices.
Federal officials were expected to meet with Sheriff's Department and county Department of Mental Health workers to propose corrective actions, but a date for the meeting was not immediately released.
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