Los Angeles County's recent budget woes are about to collide with a long-festering jail system that is run by the Sheriff's Department. When Sheriff Lee Baca proposed a September 1 closure of the North Facility at the Pitchess Detention Center, he was not implying that the jail's 1,600 inmates would be sent home. Instead, they would leave their relatively modern facility near Castaic Lake for the grim, already-overcrowded Men's Central Jail in downtown L.A.
That's when the American Civil Liberties Union stepped in by asking a federal judge to head off the closure by issuing a preliminary injunction. The group essentially said that Baca is closing the wrong jail. If it had its way, the ACLU would rather have the MCJ shuttered.
The ACLU, in fact, recently encouraged the sheriff to shut down the MCJ on grounds that it is injurious to its many inmates who suffer from mental health problems. A 2008 report found that in MCJ's medical facililty "men in wheelchairs, on crutches, and otherwise disabled were stuffed like sardines into long interconnecting, dark rooms with far too many bunk beds for them to be able to walk around."
The stressful conditions for mentally ill prisoners in MCJ were only italicized by the March suicide of an emotionally distraught inmate.
not that anyone has to twist Baca's arm -- he's suggested shutting down
the 46-year-old MCJ in the past. The problem for him is his
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department's $25 million shortfall. Traditionally the ACLU maintains a
contentious relationship with law enforcement, yet here its
request for an injunction may be a blessing for Baca by giving him legal cover to keep Pitchess open -- and possibly forcing the county to invest more resources
in its overcrowded gulag.