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Jails in Los Angeles to be under oversight for mentally ill

August 5, 2015

LOS ANGELES (AP) — U.S. justice officials have reached a settlement agreement with authorities in Los Angeles that will bring local jails under court oversight to address the treatment of mentally ill inmates.

The settlement agreement was filed Wednesday along with a complaint alleging a pattern or practice of inadequate mental health care and excessive force in the jails that violate inmates’ constitutional rights.

Once the agreement is approved in federal court, it will be overseen by an independent monitor and team of mental health and corrections experts.

It requires reforms such as new training, improved records keeping and communication between custody and mental health staff to prevent and respond to suicides and self-inflicted injuries. The agreement also expands measures against excessive force that were required in a prior lawsuit, including improvements in leadership, policies, training, data collection and analysis, and grievance procedures.

The agreement is the culmination of nearly a decade of investigation by the U.S. Justice Department into the Los Angeles county’s jails.

The Justice Department originally opened its investigation in 1996 and found constitutional deficiencies related to the treatment of mentally ill prisoners, suicide prevention and excessive force. After local authorities agreed in 2002 to address the issue, the Justice Department concluded last year that the Sheriff’s Department was still failing in those areas.

The Los Angeles County jails house up to 19,000 prisoners on a daily basis and an average of 4,000 suffer from a mental illness — more than the number of patients in the California State Hospital system — and is not staffed or designed for the therapeutic care of those in custody, Sheriff Jim McDonnell said in a statement.

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