- Associated Press - Friday, June 6, 2014

LOS ANGELES (AP) - Los Angeles County jails have “deplorable” conditions that have contributed to a dramatic increase in suicides and the system isn’t doing enough to help mentally ill inmates, according to a federal report released Friday.

Fifteen inmates have killed themselves in less than 2 ½ years, with the number increasing from four in 2012 to 10 the next year, and “dimly lit, vermin-infested, noisy, unsanitary, cramped and crowded” conditions contributed to the suicides, according to the U.S. Justice Department’s assessment of jail mental health care.

The report applauded the Sheriff’s Department - which oversees the nation’s largest jail system - for making some of the reforms in the mental health system that were required in a 2002 agreement allowing the Justice Department to monitor conditions.

However, the latest assessment found that “serious systemic deficiencies” remain that violate the rights of mentally ill inmates.

It concluded that there is inadequate mental health care and supervision to identify suicidal inmates or prevent them from becoming suicidal.

The report noted that county jails, which have about 19,000 inmates, are struggling to deal with a population surge that has increased the number of mentally ill inmates. It says nearly 1,000 men with serious mental illness or who need psychotropic medication aren’t in housing set aside for the mentally ill.

The Justice Department said it will seek another court-enforced agreement to address remaining problems. It also recommended that Los Angeles County authorities consider alternatives to incarcerating some of the mentally ill, such as placing them in community-based diversion programs.

“We are disappointed that today’s report fails to fully recognize the additional progress made over the last year-and-a-half to improve mental health services,” the Sheriff’s Department said in a statement. “The report also mischaracterizes and significantly understates the incredible efforts made to improve our suicide prevention practices.”

The department said it remains committed to working with the Justice Department on the issues.