The overhaul of America’s largest jail system ‘is a major, real thing’

Sheriff of Los Angeles County Jim McDonnell talks during an interview in Los Angeles on Thursday, July 23, 2015
Sheriff of Los Angeles County Jim McDonnell talks during an interview in Los Angeles on Thursday, July 23, 2015 AP Images

The exposure of regular prisoner abuse at Los Angeles’ jails has lead to a reform of the system, the Justice Department announced Wednesday.

The New York Times reports that the settlement between the LA County Sheriff’s Department and the Justice Department will aim to improve how mentally ill prisoners are treated and crack down on physical, mental, and sexual abuse by deputies in the country’s biggest jail system.

“This is one of the few times in my career that I’ve seen reform on such a big scale,” Margaret Winter, the associate director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project, told The Times.

“Not that there aren’t still significant problems, but this is a major, real thing.”

The settlement came after the LA County Sheriff’s Department disclosed a number of problems in the jails, which eventually led to the indictment of over a dozen Sheriff’s Department staff.

Some of the changes announced are meant to reduce suicides and implementing more investigations into all suicide attempts, as well as better assessing the mental health state of of the inmates. Other changes include more crisis intervention training for jail employees and will require inmates to spend more time outside of their cell.

The settlement also addressed the use of force in jail and expanded on a previous settlement announced in December 2014, which implemented new policies presided over by a three-person panel that would address the culture of systematic abuse.

According to lawsuits against sheriff’s deputies, guards would award each other points for breaking prisoners’ bones and inmates were also regularly racially insulted and at least one was sexually assaulted.

Other changes in the settlement focus on the better treatment of mentally ill inmates, and more mental health professionals would be added to work at the prison. The changes also include training for jail staff on how to work with mentally unstable prisoners.

The Times notes that as many as 4,000 mentally ill prisoners are housed in the county’s jails each day, according to LA County sheriff Jim McDonnell.

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