- Associated Press - Friday, October 3, 2014

LOS ANGELES (AP) - Federal officials announced they will move forward with a federal consent decree to address mental health care problems in Los Angeles County’s jails following a rash of suicides.

In a letter sent to the county last week, the Department of Justice rejected a last-ditch effort by local officials to maintain control over the jail facilities, the Los Angeles Times reported Friday (http://lat.ms/1rSTxWR ).

The DOJ said that despite some progress, it remained “concerned about the sustainability and future durability” of recent 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. On June 4, the Department of Justice announced in a letter that it would seek court oversight of the jails, citing a dramatic increase in inmate suicides.

That 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.

A consent decree would be overseen by a federal judge and probably cost the county millions of dollars to implement, according to the Times.

Assistant Sheriff Terri McDonald, who oversees custody operations, said in a written statement that her department is in discussions with the DOJ, “but it is premature to discuss any specifics.”

Richard Weiss, acting county counsel, told the newspaper he had received a draft of the consent decree and confirmed that county attorneys met with federal officials Thursday. He offered no details, saying only that “it was a very productive meeting.”

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Information from: Los Angeles Times, http://www.latimes.com

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