Remarks as prepared for delivery
Good morning and thank you all for joining us. Thank you, Eileen, for your leadership and for the incredible work of the U.S. Attorney’s Office here in Los Angeles and across the Central District of California. Throughout this investigation and in other matters, our attorneys and staff have worked side-by-side with the talented attorneys in your office to enforce our nation’s civil rights laws, and we are grateful for your partnership and steadfast support. Thank you, Supervisor [Michael] Antonovich and Sheriff [Jim] McDonnell, for joining us to announce this historic agreement today and for your leadership throughout this process.
I also want to thank Dr. [Marvin] Southard from the County Department of Mental Health, Assistant Sheriff [Terri] McDonald and all of the county officials who have been part of this important process. I also want to thank the dedicated professionals of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and the Department of Mental Health who are in the front lines at the jails every day. Their efforts are critical to the long-term success of this agreement, and I want to extend my gratitude for the work they do to provide essential mental health care services and maintain public safety in the county and in the jails.
We are here today to announce a landmark settlement agreement involving the Los Angeles County Jails, the largest jail system in the nation. The comprehensive agreement between the Justice Department, the county of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department resolves the Justice Department’s civil rights investigations into conditions at the jails and is designed to implement sweeping reforms on mental health care and use of force.
Through this agreement, the county and the sheriff renew their commitment to protecting the fundamental civil rights of those who are incarcerated in the jails by implementing comprehensive reforms in the way that the jails provide critical and sometimes life-saving mental health care and the way that staff use force in the jails. These reforms mark a new day for the treatment of prisoners at the Los Angeles jails and represent a critical step forward in restoring public trust and confidence in the criminal justice system.
When individuals are imprisoned and deprived of their liberty, they are entitled to be treated in a manner consistent with our Constitution. Under the Constitution, jails and prisons must meet the serious mental health care needs of prisoners and ensure their reasonable safety. Jails and prisons meet these obligations by instituting adequate policies, procedures, training, supervision and accountability to ensure that the facilities are not only safe, but also protect the federal constitutional rights of those imprisoned there. Our agreement with the county and the sheriff is tailored to further that purpose and is designed to provide for safer, more effective custodial care for the approximately 15,000 to 19,000 prisoners who are held in custody there each day.
Today’s agreement contains several critical reforms to address suicide risks, mental health care and excessive use of force.
For every family of an incarcerated person, the loss of that person to suicide is an unbearable tragedy. This current agreement contains important new measures that, once implemented, will go a long way to reducing the risk of suicides in the jails. The remedies include:
- significant new training on crisis intervention and interacting with prisoners with mental illness;
- greater communication between staff having contact with prisoners, from the courthouse to the jails, to ensure that suicide risks are effectively conveyed and safety precautions are properly instituted;
- measures to identify and quickly respond to suicidal and self-injurious behavior; and
- measures to improve the investigation and critical self-analysis when suicides, suicide attempts and other critical events occur.
Many other reforms are specifically tailored to preventing suicides and serious self-inflicted injury, including more effective communication among staff, increased supervision of prisoners and the mitigation of suicide hazards. Importantly, the agreement also acknowledges the undeniable effect that the outdated physical plant of the Men’s Central Jail has had on the mental health of the prisoners who live there, and requires that the county improve these conditions.
The agreement also addresses other aspects of the mental health care system at the jails. The agreement provides for:
- improved recognition of serious mental health needs through ongoing screening and assessment of mental health needs at multiple points in an individual’s incarceration;
- greater coordination between health care staff and custody staff, including improved discharge planning; and
- greater controls on the use of restraints and medication management.
Today’s agreement is also designed to address a well-documented problem with the use of excessive force against prisoners housed in the jails. A rising chorus of public accounts of violence in the jails – including the County’s Commission on Jail Violence and its scathing 2012 report – brought about the Justice Department’s decision to open a separate civil investigation of these allegations. We are pleased that, with the cooperation of the county, the sheriff and class action plaintiffs in Rosas v. McDonnell, we were able to secure an agreement that incorporates the wide-ranging reforms agreed to in that case and extends them to all of the jails’ facilities. These reforms include:
- significant revisions to use of force policies that emphasize conflict resolution and de-escalation, which should significantly reduce the use of excessive force;
- improved training for custody and mental health staff;
- more effective accountability measures, including improved use of force reporting, supervisory force reviews and force investigation; and
- enhanced grievance procedures.
The Department of Justice will remain actively engaged only as long as necessary to ensure sustainable reform and to help restore the community’s trust in the jails. In our experience with addressing systemic problems with jails, prisons and law enforcement agencies, we have found that when jurisdictions are intimately involved in crafting an appropriate remedy and committed to broad participation in the reform process, we are able to achieve stronger, more durable results. We believe that those key elements are present in today’s agreement. Indeed, today’s agreement is an important step forward for the county of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles County Jails, and we are hopeful that we will achieve positive outcomes through this renewed commitment to reform. We look forward to continuing collaboration with Los Angeles County’s elected officials, the sheriff and his command staff, rank and file deputies, mental health care staff, the community and others who have contributed to this investigation and settlement as we work together to reform the Los Angeles County Jails.