An American Civil Liberties Union report released Wednesday paints the downtown Los Angeles County jail as an almost-Dickensian den of horrors where prisoners have been beaten for complaining to the ACLU, mental patients are housed without doctors' care, and severe overcrowding exacerbates violence that is often unchecked by the sheriff's deputies charged with maintaining the 50-year-old facility.
The ACLU looked at the county jail in 2008 and 2009 to come up with its comprehensive report, which concludes that the facility should be closed or have its population of 5,000 detainees drastically reduced.
"Men's Central Jail is a modern-day medieval dungeon, a dank, windowless place where prisoners live in fear of retaliation and abuse apparently goes unchecked," states Peter Eliasberg, ACLU/SC managing attorney. "The jail is not an appropriate facility for housing prisoners with mental illness, many of whom do not receive proper treatment for their mental illness."
(Added at 2:10 p.m.): Sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore said the department would review the allegations. He didn't seem to disagree with some of its thrust: "The sheriff has long held that Men's Central Jail has outlived its usefulness,'' Whitmore said.
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The ACLU states more than half the people in the jail are awaiting trial and are thus presumed-innocents languishing in horrid conditions. The organization alleges that some detainees who complained to its monitors about conditions in the jail were beaten by deputies. In one case, the ACLU contends, a prisoner had his leg broken. In another, this chilling account was given:
On March 2, 2009, during a routine walk-through by the ACLU, Prisoner 35 complained that deputies had not been giving him showers and that he needed
medical attention. A few days later, a deputy escorted Prisoner 35 to another
module where he ordered him to stand against a wall. A second deputy referenced
Prisoner 35's complaint to the ACLU about access to showers and stated, ―We can
fix that, as he slapped Prisoner 35 on the back of the head. The deputy then
proceeded to kick Prisoner 35's feet from under him, until he fell on the floor.
While Prisoner 35 was on the ground, both deputies kicked and punched him in the
back and one deputy then hit him in the face and jaw with a flashlight several times.
During the beating one of the deputies exclaimed, ―you f***ing whiners, tell this to
the ACLU, I dare you. Following the violent beating, Prisoner was hospitalized
for a few days and received stitches on both sides of his face.
"At the root of the many problems plaguing this toxic facility is overcrowding and the only solutions are to either reduce the jail population dramatically or close it," Eliasberg said.
View the ACLU's full report here.