Office Of Independent Review 10th Annual Report-LA County Sheriffs
For centuries, society has punished those who offend its laws and mores by depriving them of liberty in jails and prisons. These inmates historically have lived in conditions of confinement ranging from substandard to inhumane, with most of the general populace showing little regard for either the conditions of those jails and prisons or the offenders who must live in them. In general, the inmate in America is better off than his historical predecessors. The Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution prevents ‘cruel and unusual punishment,’ which has been interpreted to provide base line protections and minimal standards of care to inmates, and judges have stepped in when those minimal standards have not been met. However, by and large, the criminally confined still engender little sympathy for or attention to their conditions of confinement.
That being said, those entrusted with securing, maintaining, and protecting inmates must set aside any inclination to consider them only as criminals and therefore less worthy of humane treatment.
In addition to ensuring that basic human needs are met, they must refrain from abusing their authority through infliction of inappropriate force. As importantly, those providing security should, whenever practicable, maintain that security through means other than physical force and resort to use of force only when there is no other viable alternative.
Last fall, controversy surrounding the jails in Los Angeles erupted and generated concern about the conditions of the County’s jails. When OIR first started its work in 2001, the jails were overfilled with inmates. Cells designed in the 1960’s for two non-violent inmates were housing four inmates with violent histories, and cells designed for four inmates were crammed with six. It was not uncommon to have inmates do their time as ‘floor sleepers,’ or crowded into ‘day rooms.’ Using the day rooms as housing made it virtually impossible for deputies to monitor and was a
contributing cause in at least one horrific jail homicide.