L.A. County Sheriff’s Department agrees to reforms of jail

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Amidst scandal and controversy, including an alleged conspiracy by former jail employees to hide a prisoner who was an FBI informant, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department has agreed to sweeping reforms to clean up conditions at the county’s jails, the Men’s Central Jail — The Twin Towers — in particular.

Assistant Sheriff Terri MacDonald, who runs the jail system, said many of the reforms cannot be implemented until the central jail is replaced with a new facility. The county board of supervisors agrees and plans are underway to build a new facility that focuses on care and treatment for prisoners with mental illness and substance abuse issues.

The settlement also includes federal oversight, The Department of Justice had been investigating allegations of poor treatment of the mentally ill, brutal beatings by guards and other human rights violations by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’’s Department.

The deal is said to help deputies respond more quickly to and prevent suicides and prisoners causing themselves harm. Critics of the system say it is to stop the abuse by department employees from abusing prisoners.

In May Paul Tanaka, the former undersheriff, and former captain William “Tom” Carey were charged with conspiracy and obstruction of justice after it was alleged they tried to conceal the location of a prisoner who was an FBI informant. Both Tanaka and Carey have pleaded “Not Guilty” and are awaiting trial. Of course both made bail so they don’t have to wait on their trials in jail.

Tanaka was in his third term as mayor of Gardena when the indictments were handed down after many of the department employees under Tanaka and Carey were convicted. Apparently Sheriff’s deputies had gone into the jail under cover as inmates with the informant to find out what information he was giving the FBI.

Allegedly Tanaka, who was the second most senior official in the Sheriff’s Department at the time, and Carey, would meet with deputies in the parking lot of the jail to discuss how to subvert the federal investigation of the jail system.

If you didn’t know this is a real ongoing case it looks like someone was writing a script for a movie or subscription TV show like True Detective or The Wire. The plots, subplots and conspiracies make it one of the most compelling true stories to come out of Los Angeles, the county with the largest jail system in the country.

(initially reported by the Los Angeles Times. Feature photo via Flickr)