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Lawsuit Challenges Jail Release

Court papers filed Monday argue that deputies in Los Angeles County jails should be banned from discharging mentally ill and transient inmates in the middle of the night without resources and support services.

The action, filed in Los Angeles federal court, seeks to modify some provisions of a recent settlement between the county and the U.S. Department of Justice over treatment of mentally ill jail inmates.

The plaintiffs contend that the current requirements fail to adequately address the needs of mentally disabled prisoners under the American Disabilities Act when inmates are released from custody.

A sheriff’s department spokeswoman declined immediate comment until she had reviewed the filing, and a county attorney could not be reached for comment.

“The sad truth is the Los Angeles County jails have become the largest de facto mental health facility in the country,” said Alisa Hartz, attorney at Public Counsel, which helped prepare the filing on behalf of a group of mentally ill and transient former inmates.

“As a society, we must confront the hard truths about how the jails’ practice of discharging mentally disabled homeless people contributes to the suffering on Skid Row and keeps the jails full of people who mainly need mental health treatment,” she said.

On any given day, Los Angeles County jails house and treat an average of 3,500 to 4,000 mentally ill inmates — more than the number of patients managed in the entire California State Hospital system, according to Sheriff Jim McDonnell.