The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

Judge Forces LA County to End Jail Overcrowding

by Shreema Mehta

Oct. 31, 2006 – A federal judge has demanded the Los Angeles County jail system end overcrowding and unsanitary conditions in its temporary holding center.

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District Court Judge Dean Pregerson issued the order after touring the jail system in May and September.

In May, Pregerson found four inmates packed into two-inmate cells, and six inmates in four-inmate cells at the Men’s Central Jail. The overcrowding left inmates with no floor space and forced them to stay in their bunks at all times. Inmates only left their cells for family and medical visits and to exercise for three hours a week.

In September, after telling jail officials that cell conditions were "inconsistent with basic human values," the court toured again. This time, it found that conditions at the Men’s Central Jail had improved, but that overcrowding had been shifted to the Inmate Reception Center, where incoming prisoners are processed and held for assignment at other jails.

The court found up to 35 inmates in temporary holding cells at the Reception Center. Those cells were built to hold 20 prisoners. The court added that holding cells, in which some inmates stayed for up to ten hours, were often unsanitary and contained no bunks or mattresses.

Judge Pregerson’s temporary restraining order prohibits holding inmates at the Inmate Reception Center for more than 24 hours. It also requires jail officials to restore incarcerated populations to match cell capacities unless all other options are exhausted.

The case was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, which had also observed severe staffing shortages in its own investigation of LA county jails. The ACLU applauded the order.

"This order means that the nightmarish conditions in our jails cannot be maintained," said Mark Rosenbaum, ACLU/SC legal director, in a statement. "Inmates should not be stripped of the bare requisites of dignity and decency."

Los Angeles Sheriff Department spokesperson Steve Whitmore told the Los Angeles Time his department has "been striving to do exactly what the judge is requesting prior to this restraining order."

"Having said that, we share the judge's concern," he added.

California Department of Corrections data shows that statewide, California prisons are operating at double their capacity. Los Angeles County also has one of the highest incarceration rates in the state.

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The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

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Shreema Mehta is a staff journalist.

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