Los Angeles County JAIL’S BOOKING CENTRE, known as the Inmate Reception Centre (IRC), is holding people in abysmal conditions of confinement and violating decades of court orders, according to an emergency court filing by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the ACLU Foundation of Southern California.

Attorneys from the ACLU who visited the IRC and spoke to people detained there describe shocking conditions of confinement, including:

  • People with serious mental illness chained to chairs for days at a time, where they sleep sitting up.

  • Dozens of people crammed together, sleeping head-to-foot on the hard concrete floor.

  • People defecating in trash cans and urinating on the floor or in empty food containers in shared spaces.

  • Unhygienic conditions, including floors littered with trash, overflowing sinks and toilets, no access to showers or clean clothes for days, and lack of adequate access to drinking water and food.

  • Failure to provide adequate health care, including failure to provide people with serious mental illness or chronic medical conditions their medications, or to provide care to people dangerously detoxing from drugs and alcohol.

In one case, Jhean Banos, who is diagnosed with schizophrenia, was held at the IRC for more than four days in late August. He had cuts and bruises around his wrists likely caused by being cuffed for more than 99 hours.

“My son’s mental health is not a crime”, said Jhean’s mother, Celia Banos. “Instead of providing him with the treatment he needs from health professionals, the county resorts to locking him up without care and without his medication.”

Law enforcement officers arrest and take people to the IRC, where they are meant to get booked and transferred to another facility within 24 hours. Many of the people detained at the IRC experience houselessness, have serious mental illnesses, or both.

“LA County’s horrific treatment of people in the jails is egregious but sadly comes as no surprise”, said Ambrose Brooks S., coordinator of the JusticeLA Coalition. “As we’ve seen time and time again, incarcerating people is never the answer to people experiencing houselessness, poverty, or unmet mental health needs.”

Conditions at the LA County Jails, the largest jail system in the nation, have been the subject of court oversight since 1978, when a federal court judge ruled in the ACLU SoCal case Rutherford v. Pitchess, finding numerous conditions that violated the constitutional rights of people who were incarcerated.

“The LA County Jail system is a national disgrace” ,said Corene Kendrick, deputy director of the ACLU National Prison Project. “For almost 50 years, the jail has been under court oversight to provide the most basic minimum standards of sanitation, health care, and human decency to people detained there. Enough is enough.”

The emergency filing asks the court to order the county to limit custody at the IRC to 24 hours at most and to improve conditions so they meet minimum standards. But advocates and community groups argue that the real solution requires county investment in alternatives to incarceration.

“The county supervisors have long touted a ‘Care First, Jails Last’ approach, but have failed to make any meaningful investments in community-based alternatives to incarceration”, said Melissa Camacho-Cheung, senior staff attorney at the ACLU SoCal. “We know what works for our neighbours and family members who are suffering: community-based programming that provides people with case management, stable housing, medical and mental health care, and support.”

* Read declarations by attorneys and people detained at IRC here.

* Source: American Civil Liberties Union