LOS ANGELES (CN) - Los Angeles County has agreed to "historic" reforms of its jails to protect mentally ill inmates from suicide and excessive force at the hands of jailers, the Justice Department said Wednesday.
An agreement with the county and Sheriff Jim McDonnell filed this morning settles the federal government's 19-year investigation into jailers' treatment of mentally ill prisoners. The settlement will also end the government's excessive-force allegations at three downtown jails and protect prisoners in the entire county jail system, the U.S. Attorney's office in LA said.
In a statement, U.S. Attorney Eileen Decker said the federal government will "vigorously protect" inmates who "must depend on jail officials for their most basic needs and safety."
"The settlement agreement avoids protracted litigation and provides a blueprint for durable reform that will foster continued collaboration among sheriff deputies, health care professionals and other stakeholders," Decker said. "We commend the county and Sheriff McDonnell for their cooperation and for their commitment to make this historic settlement agreement possible."
The U.S. Attorney's Office said that by court order the county and McDonnell will put into place "comprehensive reforms to ensure constitutional conditions in the jails and restore public trust."
An independent monitor and mental-health and corrections experts will oversee the county officials to make sure they protect, treat and supervise mentally ill prisoners, train jailers, and respond to and investigate suicides and attempted suicides.
The county has also been ordered to improve use-of-force reporting and grievance procedures.
"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."
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