The American Civil Liberties Union filed suit against Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, according to a Wall Street Journal article printed yesterday. The LA Sheriff’s Department, which operates five LA County correctional facilities including the Men’s Central Jail – the largest jail in the world in terms of population – is accused in the lawsuit of widespread abuse and mistreatment of inmates. More than a simple rights violation complaint, the ACLU contends that guards engage in systematic abuse of incarcerated persons and exhibit a “gang mentality” in their behavior.
This is not the first accusation the LA County Sheriff has encountered. In fact, the sheriff’s deaprtment asserts as much, telling the Wall Street Journal that “the suit contains no new allegations than the ones that have been leveled against the department for years.”
From the WSJ article:
The department has been accused of jail abuses for decades—well before Mr. Baca was elected sheriff in 1998. Under a federal decree resulting from an overcrowding suit, the ACLU has been monitoring treatment of inmates for years. Since at least 2008, the ACLU has issued reports alleging inmate abuse.
Considering the state prison realignment currently underway in California, it will be interesting to see how the sheriff’s department handles (or remedies) the accusations put forth in this suit. As of the end of 2011, the LA County jail system had been receiving nearly extra 235 inmates per week as a result of the state’s realignment plan, according to an assistant sheriff. With the state still under budgetary strain, it will be difficult for LA County to draw down the resources it would need to accommodate the extra inmates. The same quantity of staff guarding an increasing number of inmates presents a potentially toxic correctional environment.
Of course, the Supreme Court ruling that prompted California’s realignment plan was not designed to shift the burden from one correctional agency (the CDCR) to another (the LA County Sheriff’s Dept.), but rather to compel the state to improve living and health care conditions for inmates in its care. Hopefully, the LA County Sheriff’s Department can halt the alleged abuses before they face a similar edict.