LOS ANGELES – The Justice Department has reached a comprehensive settlement agreement with the County of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles County Sheriff to protect prisoners from serious suicide risks and excessive force in the Los Angeles County jails, United States Attorney Eileen M. Decker and Deputy Assistant Attorney General Mark J. Kappelhoff announced today.
The settlement agreement was filed this morning, along with a complaint that alleges a pattern or practice of inadequate mental health care and excessive force at the jails in violation of prisoners’ federal constitutional rights. The Justice Department, together with the county and the Sheriff, has requested that the District Court enter the settlement agreement as an order to bring court oversight to the reforms, to ensure that the reforms are implemented fully and transparently, and to strengthen public confidence in the jails.
Today’s settlement resolves claims stemming from the Justice Department’s long-standing civil investigation into mental health care at the jails, which found a pattern of constitutionally deficient mental health care for prisoners, including inadequate suicide prevention practices. In addition, the settlement agreement includes remedial measures to address a separate civil investigation into use of force by jails staff.
The Justice Department’s investigations involved an in-depth review of thousands of pages of documents and other records, on-site visits and interviews with numerous jails staff members, prisoners and others. The Justice Department was assisted by subject matter experts in the fields of mental health care, suicide prevention and correctional practices.
The County and the Sheriff cooperated with the civil investigations and have begun to implement many of the negotiated reforms in the settlement agreement, which was negotiated by attorneys with the United States Attorney’s Office and the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.
“The Justice Department will continue to vigorously protect the federal civil rights of all individuals, including those who are imprisoned and who must depend on jail officials for their most basic needs and safety,” said United States Attorney Decker. “The settlement agreement avoids protracted litigation and provides a blue print for durable reform that will foster continued collaboration among sheriff deputies, healthcare professionals and other stakeholders. We commend the County and Sheriff McDonnell for their cooperation and for their commitment to make this historic settlement agreement possible.”
“This historic settlement represents a renewed commitment by the county and Sheriff McDonnell to provide constitutionally adequate care for prisoners with serious mental illness,” said Deputy Assistant Attorney General Kappelhoff. “The agreement also puts in place a structure that will help turn around a persistent culture in which the use of excessive force on prisoners was sometimes tolerated. I want to thank the sheriff and county for their cooperation and leadership. Their efforts are critical to the long-term success of this agreement.”
Under the settlement agreement filed today, the County and the Sheriff have agreed to implement comprehensive reforms to ensure constitutional conditions in the jails and restore public trust. The settlement agreement will be court-enforceable once approved by the District Court and will be overseen by an independent monitor and a team of mental health and corrections experts. The settlement agreement is designed to prevent and respond more effectively to suicides and self-inflicted injuries through measures that include:
• additional steps to recognize, assess and treat prisoners with mental illness, from intake to discharge;
• significant new training on crisis intervention and interacting with prisoners with mental illness for new and existing custody staff;
• improved documentation in prisoners’ medical and mental health records to ensure continuity of care;
• improved communication between custody and mental health staff and increased supervision of mentally ill and suicidal prisoners;
• steps to mitigate suicide risks within the jails;
• increased access to out-of-cell time for mentally ill prisoners; and
• improved investigation and critical self-analysis of suicides, suicide attempts and other critical events.
With respect to use of force, the settlement agreement expands critical reforms agreed to by the County and the Sheriff in Rosas v. McDonnell to cover all facilities within the jail system. These reforms include:
• enhanced leadership and executive staff engagement;
• significant revisions to use-of-force policies, which should significantly reduce the use of excessive force, with added protections for use of force against prisoners with mental illness;
• enhanced training for custody and mental health staff;
• enhanced data collection and analysis;
• enhanced accountability measures, including use-of-force reporting, use-of-force reviews and discipline; and
• enhanced grievance procedures.
The Justice Department’s investigation was originally opened in 1996, under the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA). The Justice Department found constitutional deficiencies in mental health care, suicide prevention and the use of excessive force against prisoners with mental illness. In 2002, the Justice Department entered into a memorandum of agreement with the County and the Sheriff to address these concerns. Despite considerable progress over the years of monitoring the memorandum of agreement, the Justice Department concluded in 2014 that the jails were failing to provide adequate mental health care, including suicide prevention, and that conditions under which prisoners with mental illness were housed exacerbated the risk of suicide.
In addition, in 2013, the Justice Department initiated a separate civil investigation into allegations of use of excessive force by jails staff under both CRIPA and the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994. While the use-of-force investigation was ongoing, the County and the Sheriff settled the Rosas v. McDonnell class-action lawsuit, which alleged excessive force by jails deputies in three downtown facilities. The settlement agreement incorporates all of the reforms in Rosas and extends them to all county jail facilities to cover prisoners throughout the jails system.
The civil investigations were conducted by attorneys and staff from the Civil Division of the United States Attorney’s Office and the Civil Rights Division’s Special Litigation Section.