Tuesday, December 12, 2006
Preliminary Injunction Ruling Delayed in ACLU’s Suit Over Holding Conditions of County Jail Inmates
By TINA BAY, Staff Writer
U.S. District Judge Dean D. Pregerson yesterday delayed ruling on whether to issue a preliminary injunction restricting how the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department holds detainees at its Inmate Reception Center in downtown-Los Angeles, a sheriff’s spokesperson said.
Commander Alex Yim said he does not expect decision on a preliminary injunction request by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California before Jan. 11, when the parties are scheduled for another hearing.
“I think the judge is trying to circumnavigate all the information we’re providing to come up with a fair decision that all of us can use as a platform to move forward,” Yim said.
The jurist meanwhile left standing the temporary restraining order he issued Oct. 26 that bars the county from placing more than 20 inmates in a holding cell at the IRC— the central processing hub for the county jail system where inmates are screened and held before being transported to one of the county jail system’s seven facilities.
The order also prohibits the county from holding inmates for more than 24 hours, subjecting them to unsanitary conditions, or failing to provide them with ongoing medical care.
In a statement released Friday, the ACLU said it intended to “expose loopholes the county has used to circumvent the order.”
The county was holding inmates in medical areas exempt from the order, the group alleged, and shuffled many of them daily, for weeks at a time, between the IRC and holding cells at the jail facilities without ever assigning them regular housing. Thus, while technically complying with the order, the county has continued to work great hardship on detainees, the organization asserted.
Melinda Bird, senior counsel for the ACLU of Southern California, said what the group has observed “indisputably violates the spirit and intent of the judge’s orders.”
Yim said the ACLU’s accusations were not supported by any “viable information.”
“I think ultimately everybody realizes we have a very dedicated personnel, and I think we’re trying to do the best we can with what we have.”
For example, he said, the county jail has been increasing its medical operations at the Pitchess Detention Center, allowing more inmates with medical issues to be transferred to that facility from the IRC. The Sheriff’s Department has also been working on an internal tracking system at the IRC so that those nearing the 24-hour limit can be identified and transferred out more quickly, he explained.
Yim added that with the $258 million allocated by the County Board of Supervisors to upgrade the jail system, the county would expand its facilities to include an additional 2,000 beds.
The ACLU’s motion targeting IRC is part of its ongoing lawsuit challenging conditions in the county jail system.
In seeking a preliminary injunction, the group decried overcrowding and other allegedly inhumane conditions existing at the IRC.
It claimed that as a result of the county’s effort to alleviate overcrowding at the Men’s Detention Center—where most IRC inmates are transferred—the problem of backlog at the IRC had grown so severe that as many as 35 inmates were being held in one of the facility’s 186-square-foot cells. Cramming detainees in such a manner resulted in deplorable conditions like filthy toilets and floors, the ACLU said.
Pregerson, in issuing his Oct. 26 order, noted that “inmates, particularly pre-trial detainees who are imbued with the presumption of innocence, deserve better than to be housed in a system which has defaulted to the lowest permissible standard of care.”
Yim said that at yesterday’s hearing, the ACLU for the first time raised the issue of the county providing mattresses, blankets and linens to IRC inmates.
“We clearly communicated to the judge that this would diminish the space available for inmates by providing them these things,” he said, adding:
“Our mission is to get them out of there, to move them to housing locations. We don’t want to get caught up in the process.”
The judge has not yet ruled on that issue, Yim said.
Copyright 2006, Metropolitan News Company