In most parts of Los Angeles County’s Men’s Central Jail, there is no natural light, only views of cell bars or scrums of inmates crowded in bunk beds pushed together end to end, reports the Los Angeles Times. Toilets back up because of the antiquated 50-year-old plumbing system. Many men are out of their cells for only three hours a week. They must remain vigilant to avoid attacks from other prisoners and, in some cases, the deputies who guard them. For people who already are mentally ill, as more than 10 percent of the inmates are, the overcrowded, dungeon-like environment can push them closer to the edge of suicide.
Under a settlement reached with the federal government last week, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department agreed to sweeping reforms of the county’s jails in an effort to end deputy abuse and improve conditions for the mentally ill. Jail officials say they won’t be able to eliminate the suicide risks caused by the aging and poorly designed Men’s Central Jail, which houses 4,000 of the county’s 17,000 inmates. The jail “in and of itself is a risk factor. It’s a depressive environment,” said Assistant Sheriff Terri McDonald. Currently, there is a shortage of mental health beds throughout the jail system. County supervisors plan to the Men’s Central Jail eventually with a new facility focused on mental health treatment, but they have delayed the process to reconsider its size.