LA In-custody Deaths Surge

Three more deaths occur in one week at LA’s dangerous and mistreated Men’s Central Jail.

At times, individuals from within Los Angeles County’s jail system reach out to Witness LA for a chance to have a conversation. These calls are received semi-regularly, and often, the callers want someone to talk to.

Sometimes, the jail inmates reach out to us for assistance with the issues they face within the system’s different facilities, mainly at Men’s Central Jail. These residents, many of whom we have previously connected with, seek our help to address their problems.

According to civil rights attorneys, there seems to be a recurring issue of mail being lost or not delivered properly. While some of these incidents may be attributed to technical errors, others, such as mail sent to or from family members and lawyers repeatedly failing to arrive, appear to be a deliberate form of abuse. Although these problems may not pose a significant threat, they can be frustrating for those affected.

Occasionally, the issues that arise may indicate more grave matters at hand.

There was a recent instance of a caller who frequently moved between healthcare facilities due to his complicated health conditions. Unfortunately, he faced a significant issue where his essential medication failed to follow him during these transitions. This was challenging for him, highlighting the need for better coordination and communication between healthcare providers.

When he is sent to LA General Medical Center due to his deteriorating health, he experiences a similar situation. Upon his return to MCJ or Twin Towers, he is left without his prescribed medication for days or even longer, which is highly concerning as his need for the drug is crucial.

Chained to Benches and Chairs: A Disturbing Reality for Many in the Justice System

Towards the end of last year, we highlighted the findings of the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) and the ACLU of Southern California, which revealed the appalling conditions prevalent in the Inmate Reception Center (IRC) of the county’s jail system.

According to the OIG’s report for the second quarter of 2022, individuals in the midst of a mental health crisis were subjected to being shackled to benches and chairs for extended periods, often lasting two or more days, while they waited to be processed. The report sheds light on the inhumane treatment of vulnerable individuals needing mental health care.

In the fall of last year, there was a concerning development at the jail intake centre in the county, which prompted the ACLU to take action. On September 8, 2022, they filed an emergency motion, requesting a temporary restraining order against the county from U.S. District Judge Dean D. Pregerson. This was done by the federal consent decree that the county was subject to since 2015.

In support of the motion to hold the county in contempt for its failure to comply, the ACLU filed a fresh set of documents on April 5 of this year. These documents are on the ACLU website under the case name Rutherford v. Luna.

Our team has recently made significant progress in our fight against jail abuse. Thanks to the invaluable assistance of our pro-bono attorney, we have taken the necessary steps to unseal critical evidence that sheds light on the issue of abuse within the jails. This is a significant milestone for us, and we hope it will bring us one step closer to achieving justice for those who have suffered at the hands of abusive jail staff.

Deaths in Custody – A Tragic Reality

In addition to the issues above, there is also the concerning matter of in-custody deaths. According to reports from the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, there have been 30 such deaths since the start of 2023. This distressing statistic highlights the need for significant reform and improvement within the criminal justice system.

Three deaths were recorded between August 3 and August 9 in MCJ alone.

After hearing about the recent deaths, Michelle Parris, the director of the Vera Institute of Justice’s California office, she provided us with the following statement.

According to the Vera Institute of Justice, the loss of life in Los Angeles County jails is an ongoing tragedy that requires immediate action. The failure of the county to address this issue puts incarcerated individuals in grave danger. Shockingly, in just six days, three more people, one of them only 20 years old, have died in the Men’s Central Jail (MCJ), a facility with conditions that even county officials have deemed “unconscionable.” The Vera Institute of Justice calls for urgent intervention to prevent further loss of life in these facilities.

According to reports, the running death toll for 2023 has now reached 30, making it the deadliest year on record for the most extensive jail system in the country. In 2020, the LA County Board of Supervisors made several important promises, including prioritizing care and using jail as a last resort. However, with the current crisis, they must take immediate action and live up to their mantra of putting care first. As stated by Parris, this is the only way to address the ongoing crisis and prevent further losses.

According to Parris, the recent deaths at Men’s Central Jail indicate that the facility should not be in operation at all.

According to Parris, the Board has acknowledged and confirmed its intention to close Men’s Central Jail (MCJ) without providing a replacement. Two years ago, the board commissioned a report, endorsed by the Sheriff’s Department and the Office of Diversion and Reentry, on how to close MCJ within two years. However, it is unacceptable that no actual plan has been adopted since then. The board’s commitment to closing MCJ is further undermined by the failure of the Jail Closure Implementation Team, which was created and funded by the board, to publish any progress report in over a year or address the increasing death toll. This is not indicative of a county committed to closing a facility that is consistently ranked among the ten worst in the country.

According to Parris, it is crucial to take responsibility for the current situation and act accordingly. He suggests that the board must recognize the matter’s urgency and commit to closing MCJ within the next two years. Additionally, Parris recommends that the board immediately implement a decarceration plan for MCJ to address the issue.

Fatalities and Post-Mortem Examinations

The Vera Institute for Justice, an organization that collaborates with affected communities and government officials to develop solutions to reduce the number of people behind bars while ensuring everyone is treated with respect, is a reputable name in the field. For those unfamiliar with the institute, it has a long-standing reputation for its commitment to implementing strategies prioritising dignity and fairness for all individuals. Recently, the institute has partnered with numerous stakeholders to address the growing concern surrounding the high number of deaths in LA County jails, which has reached 29 this year alone.

Sam McCann from Vera shared his thoughts on the continuous and fatal crisis in LA’s jails following the recent deaths. According to McCann, the situation is concerning and requires immediate attention.

McCann pointed out that the LA County Sheriff’s Department does not disclose the identities of individuals who pass away while in jail custody. Instead, they only release basic information such as the person’s age, date of death, whether they were awaiting trial or sentencing, and the location where they were detained. This lack of transparency raises questions about the department’s accountability and the circumstances surrounding the deaths of these individuals. If the department were more forthcoming with information, it could help shed light on potential issues and allow for a more thorough investigation into these incidents.

It’s important to mention that since the start of the year, many deaths in LA County jails have been Black men, accounting for 28 per cent of the total deaths. Meanwhile, 41 per cent of the deaths were identified as “Hispanic.”

According to McCann, out of the 30 individuals who have lost their lives, the majority, 18, were held pretrial. The official data also confirmed this information.

Unfortunately, many of the 18 individuals were detained solely due to their inability to pay for bail.

A recent study conducted by UCLA researchers found that the listed cause of death often contradicted other facts presented in the cases of jail deaths analysed. This implies that there may be more to these deaths than what is being reported or documented. The study highlights the need for greater transparency and accountability in reporting inmate deaths in jails.

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