Friday, October 3, 2014
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 it would seek court oversight of the jails, citing a dramatic increase in inmate suicides.
In the Sept. 25 letter, federal officials said they hoped to have a draft of a consent decree ready this week. The county's written response to the Justice Department's June 4 letter was not enough to avert federal oversight, given "the severity of the issues" and the failure of the 2002 agreement to sufficiently improve jail conditions, they wrote.
A consent decree would be overseen by a federal judge and probably cost the county millions of dollars to implement.
The June 4 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.