County Board of Supervisors and sheriff to close the Men’s Central Jail, where they say nightmarish conditions and overcrowding have exacerbated the symptoms of thousands of inmates suffering serious . today called for the L.A.
s Central Jail in downtown L.A. as a massively overcrowded center where the mentally ill are abused, kept in their cells for much, if not all, of the day, and instead of being treated are subject to discipline. made the call as they released a report by an expert on mental health in jails that paints the aging Men’
They say the money from the closure would be better spent on mental health programs that could reduce the influx of inmates. The report by Dr. Terry Kupers, produced for the ACLU of Southern California, comes after an inmate hung himself last month in disciplinary housing inside the Men’s Central Jail.
Sheriff Lee Baca, whose department operates the L.A. County jails, has long said the system is the largest mental health institution in the country.
The push by the ACLU, which has been a constant critic of jailhouse conditions and represents inmates in several lawsuits.
Built in 1963, the jail costs about $50 million a year to operate and houses about 6,700 of the 18,000 inmates in the county jail system. The Men’s Central Jail, with some of the most dangerous inmates in the country, is known for outbreaks of violence, including slayings committed by inmates.
Despite the construction of the neighboring Twin Towers jail to help handle inmates with mental health issues, Kupers’ report found inmates with mental illness are still housed at Men’s Central and their disorders often overlooked.
He describes it as a dark and dank jail with crowded rows of mostly windowless cells, where rehabilitation programs are scarce or nonexistent and treatment is limited to medication. Those suffering from mental illness are often those most abused by fellow inmates, he says. The jailhouse rapist, he says, “selects a prisoner with significant mental illness, a loner who would likely have friends who might not retaliate.” (Note: An earlier version of this post left out the word "not" before "retaliate." )
Kupers says he was “stunned by the degree of overcrowding” at Men’s Central Jail when he visited last year .....
He says the jail was so overcrowded that in many instances deputies simply could not see all the inmate areas because so many people were crammed into some spaces. He acknowledges that since his visit improvements have been made to reduce overcrowding, but for the most part men remain in their cells 24 hours a day, eat their meals there and don’t have access to mental health programs.
Lighting, he notes, was particularly bad.
“There is a double problem, the fixtures do not provide sufficient light for reading, and then lights are left on all night, interfering with sleep,” he writes.
Inmates' mental health suffers in this environment as they desperately crave interaction with the natural world in a windowless environment, where the older architecture exacerbates the noise, Kupers writes. Such are the conditions, Kupers says, that the staff has become “increasingly insensitive to prisoner concerns” as “excessive force and other abuses become more frequent occurrences.”
Many of those finding their way to L.A. County jails until the 1970s would have been treated in state . The state changed its approach and opted to try to treat the mentally ill in the community. However, shortcomings led in many cases to no treatment at all, and the mentally ill often ended up in jail for nuisance offenses.
The sheer volume of inmates, Kupers says -- about 13,000 a month -- makes it impossible to screen for mental illness in all inmates. Kupers, a psychiatrist, alleges there is a pattern of failure to diagnose such illness and that jail officials inappropriately downgrade prisoners’ mental health disorders because there is not enough space in mental health areas of county jails. He cited incidences in which inmates with documented histories of mental hospital treatment for were downgraded to a disorder not worthy of mental health treatment.
Mentally ill inmates often end up in a segregated unit, where the shouting and crying are worse than in the general population unit, and pepper spray sometimes wafts into their cells from nearby incidents.
Kupers recommends the jail population across the system be reduced immediately. Mentally ill inmates, he says, need mental health housing, not segregation and punishment.
-- Richard Winton
THANK YOU, GOD, THAT THE SMALL CLOUD THAT WAS NO LARGER
THAN A FIST IN THE SKY IS NOW GROWING. THANK YOU. SOON
AND VERY SOON, THE MENTALLY ILL IN AMERICA WILL BE TREATED
WITH THE DIGNITY AND RESPECT DUE TO HUMAN BEINGS WHO
WERE MADE IN YOUR IMAGE. WE GIVE YOU ALL THE GLORY.
Your servant, Mary
Assistance to the Incarcerated Mentally Ill
a/k/a The Dorothea Dix Group
JAIL IS THE LAST THING MENTAL PATIENTS
NEED ... AND TOO OFTEN, JAIL IS THE L-A-S-T THING THEY
EXPERIENCE. Please join us in our quest to decriminalize mental
illness in America. No one should be punished for having a