Improve Inmates’ Living Conditions


Target: California Attorney General, Kamala Harris

Goal: Demand that Los Angeles County jails improve inmates’ living conditions to meet federal standards

In a recent report by the U.S. Department of Justice, conditions in the country’s largest jail system—with roughly 19,000 prisoners—are “deplorable” and “unconstitutional.” The report denounces Los Angeles county’s prisoner suicide prevention program, mental health care and living conditions, asserting that they do not meet required national standards, and in some cases, are in violation of the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

The report comes as a result of a 2002 court agreement allowing the justice department to oversee the mental health systems within the jails. The report states that nearly 1,000 men with serious mental issues and are in need of psychotropic medications aren’t separated from the general prisoner population. It also condemns the increase in suicides from four in 2012 to 10 the following year. According to the report, “Prisoners with mental illness do not receive adequate supervision and are housed in conditions that present, rather than prevent, a risk of suicide.” These housing conditions were also referred to as “dimly lit, vermin-infested, noisy, unsanitary, cramped and crowded.”

A court-enforced consent decree requested by some federal officials calls to divert mentally ill offenders from the jail system altogether, aptly insisting that prison is no place for mental health care. Urge the sheriff’s department to protect inmates in Los Angeles County jails by complying with all recommendations and regulations set forth by the U.S. Department of Justice.


Dear Ms. Harris,

While it is clear that overcrowding in our nation’s prisons is possibly the largest problem facing inmate safety, there are measures that can be taken to improve the welfare of mentally ill inmates and those with a high risk of suicide. Since 2002, when the U.S. Department of Justice began monitoring the conditions in the Los Angeles prison system, few steps have been taken to follow the department’s recommendations.

In fact, the Department of Justice has found conditions in L.A. jails to be deplorable and often “unconstitutional,” stating that the facilities are a catalyst for suicide rather than a deterrent. Some inmates with a high suicide risk were allowed materials such as plastic utensils and sheets, both of which have been connected with prison suicides. Other at-risk inmates, on the other hand, were left without mattresses, which are not known to assist in suicide.

The recommendations of the U.S. Department of Justice are for the welfare of inmates, not outlandish suggestions with no real world application, and they should be followed. I urge you to do everything in your power to ensure that the inmates in L.A. County jails receive proper care by forcing the facilities to comply with federal regulations.


[Your Name Here]

Photo credit: Basil D Soufi via Wikimedia Commons

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