As the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department releases thousands of inmates because of budget shortfalls in the nation’s largest jail system, it continues to hold wrongly scores of others who are entitled to release, the Los Angeles Times reports. To avoid being sued, the department is handing some inmates checks for several hundred dollars and requiring them to sign documents that would prevent them from taking the county to court. Four years ago, Los Angeles County paid $27 million to settle class-action lawsuits by inmates who were illegally jailed or mistreated in custody.
A federal judge has ordered the Sheriff’s Department to tell inmates that by accepting a settlement – some get as little as a few dollars per day – they would no longer be eligible to sue the county for damages. In some cases, forms written in English were presented to inmates who didn’t speak the language fluently. After inquiries from the Times, the department said it would begin producing documents in Spanish for inmates to use to waive their legal rights. In a 12-month period that ended in June, the department jailed 66 inmates who had been ordered released or who were never charged with crimes. Most inmates were improperly held for days, a few for weeks or even months, mainly because of paperwork errors.