Lady  Justice 16-9

Los Angeles County Friday is mulling over a draft of a consent decree that the U.S. Justice Department wants to impose on local jails — an arrangement that would cost the county millions of dollars and that a county supervisors says would reflect “dereliction” by local sheriff’s and mental health officials.

Richard Weiss, the acting county counsel, told the Los Angeles Times he has received a draft of the consent decree and confirmed without elaboration that county attorneys had “a very productive meeting” with federal officials Thursday, the newspaper reported.

Federal officials are moving forward with a consent decree to address longstanding problems with mental health care in L.A. County jails, having rejected a last-ditch effort by the county to maintain control over its incarceration facilities, The Times reported. In a letter sent to the county last week, the Justice Department said that despite some progress, it remained “concerned about the sustainability and future durability of the reforms.”

The county jails have been monitored by federal officials for the last 12 years under an agreement requiring improvements in treatment of the mentally ill, according to The Times. On June 4, the Justice Department  announced it would seek court oversight of the jails, citing a dramatic increase in inmate suicides.

The June 4 letter described “dimly lit, vermin-infested, noisy, unsanitary, cramped and crowded” living conditions that exacerbated inmates’ mental distress. After suicides more than doubled, from four in 2012 to 10 the following year, jail officials did little to address the situation, the letter said, calling many of the suicides preventable.

The county’s written response to the June 4 letter was not enough to avert federal oversight, given “the severity of the issues,” Justice Department officials wrote last week, according to The Times.

In an interview Thursday, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas accused the sheriff’s department and the county mental health department of not taking the problems in the jails seriously. A federal consent decree would be a black mark on the county, amounting to “dereliction of duty” and “absconding of responsibility,” he told The Times.

The Los Angeles Police Department was under a consent decree for 12 years, until last year.

—City News Service

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