June 6, 2014 8:11 pm -

Inadequate mental health care is what renders the operation of Los Angeles jails unconstitutional says Justice Department.

In a letter to the County of L.A., U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte and DOJ’s Jonathan Smith wrote that the circumstances around a growing number of suicides and attempted suicides in the jails indicate that the county’s violating the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

The DOJ has been monitoring mental health conditions in L.A. County jails for 12 years. In the past, the federal government has provided the county with periodic updates and suggestions, but has not reached the level of asking for court intervention.

Among the issues:

  • Inadequate mental health care to prevent inmates from becoming suicidal.
  • An increase in the number of preventable suicides over the past year-and-a-half. In 2012, there were four suicides in L.A. County jails — in 2013, there were 10. There was also a 20 percent increase in suicide attempts in 2013. “Many of the suicides that occurred in the last two years were preventable,” the letter said.
  • Custody staff don’t follow protocol. About “44 percent of those who self-harmed were housed in mental health housing at the time of the incident, indicating a lack of custodial supervision,” the letter said. Sometimes, suicide checks on inmates are not performed, the letter said. KPCC reported last month on the case of an inmate who committed suicide while on suicide watch who was left alone for hours.
D.B. Hirsch
D.B. Hirsch is a political activist, news junkie, and retired ad copy writer and spin doctor. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.